Ann Widdecombe – 1997 Speech on Fox Hunting

Below is the text of the speech made by Ann Widdecombe, the Conservative MP for Maidstone and the Weald, in the House of Commons on 28 November 1997.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) on his choice of subject. I particularly congratulate him on his courage in introducing a controversial Bill so early in his time in the House.

I also congratulate the hon. Member for Wansdyke (Dan Norris) on his maiden speech and on having the courage to make it in such a debate. His predecessor, Jack Aspinwall, was much respected on both sides of the House. I am grateful for the tribute paid to him.

Having started on that friendly note, I should like to engage in one of my favourite sports–trying to flush out the Prime Minister. The hon. Member for Worcester told the House that the Prime Minister supported the Bill. I am pleased to hear that. Does that support extend to making parliamentary time available? I hope that I shall be assisted in the resolution of that query by the spokesman for the Opposition. I hope that he will help me to flush out the Prime Minister.

Mr. Ivor Caplin (Hove): Spokesman for the Government.

Miss Widdecombe: That is true. It takes a lot of getting used to, and it will not last long, anyway.

On 15 April–hon. Members may recall that that was in the middle of the general election campaign–the current Prime Minister, in his then role of Leader of the Opposition, wrote to the current Minister for Sport, the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks). He said:

“Our policy is to have a free vote in Parliament on whether hunting with hounds should be banned by legislation. If such a vote is passed, it will be a decision made by Parliament and parliamentary time will be made available for appropriate legislation to progress in the normal way.”

I repeat:

“parliamentary time will be made available”.

If the House passes the Bill–or at least gives it a Second Reading, as it is unlikely to pass the Bill–I hope that the Prime Minister will honour his promise and will make time available, not for a measure on licensing or some other watered-down proposition, but for the measures in the Bill. We have heard a lot of talk about what the upper House will do. I want to know what the Prime Minister will do if Parliament votes–

Mr. Peter Bradley: Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Miss Widdecombe: No. The hon. Gentleman is not the Prime Minister.

I have a couple of concessions to make about the Bill. It may not be the most perfectly drafted Bill in the world, but it is a pretty good attempt. If it is possible for a lawyer of the eminence of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) to interpret clause 5 in a different way from what was intended, we shall tidy that up in Committee. What is the Committee stage for? That is a common plea in private Members’ legislation, and one that I have often made–and Labour Members have not granted it. One does not need perfection the first time, because the Committee stage is designed, elementarily, to clear up such problems.

Yes, the fox is exceptionally cruel. When it goes into a hen-house it is concerned not only with getting a good supper but with having a horrible time with the hens. Does that mean that we should take our standards from the fox? Is it proposed that, because a fox eats a couple of guinea pigs in a nasty way, the House should take its standards from the fox? I find that proposition amazing, as I have some of the other arguments advanced today.

It is argued that if we abolish hunting we will abolish jobs. If we abolish crime, we will put all the police out of work. If we abolish ill health, we will put all the nurses and doctors out of work. Does anyone seriously suggest that we must preserve at all costs crime and ill health because they keep people in jobs?

We are told that there must be consensus before we lock people up, that if there is a large body of opinion that says that something is okay, we must not lock up the practitioners. What about the legalisation of cannabis? A sizeable body of opinion, with which I am totally at odds, says that cannabis is all right. I defend to the hilt society’s right to lock up the purveyors of cannabis. I defend also to the hilt–although this will not be so acceptable to Labour Members–our right to lock up people who did not pay their poll tax when it was a lawfully levied tax.

If this democratically elected House decides that hunting is against the law, it is our right to exact penalties against those who fight the law. We will be penalising not the fact that they like to hunt but the fact that they break the law. I do not believe that the sort of people who tell me that they want to carry on hunting are the sort who would wilfully break the law. There seems to be an underlying assumption that such people will go out breaking the law. Frankly, I doubt it. If Parliament changes the law, I believe that people will largely obey it and that we are entitled to take action against those who do not.

It is important to ask ourselves a simple question. Is hunting so wrong that we wish to abolish it? If it is, all else flows from that. We do not need to be concerned about jobs or liberties to do wrong; we need only ask whether it is so wrong that it should be abolished.

My problem with hunting is not that I contest the right of farmers to practise pesticide. Hunting is a most ineffective pesticide. Its supporters have tried to have it both ways by saying that they do not kill too many foxes but also that they kill so many that it is a good pesticide. In fact, nine tenths of fox control is done by shooting, not hunting.

Hunting is not a pesticide, so we must ask what it is. It is cruelty. I am not against killing foxes or culling deer. I am against the chase, the cruelty involved in the prolonging the terror of a living, sentient being that is running for its life. They laugh at it, apparently. When the deer is running, can feel the hounds closing in and knows that its strength is not going to last, it is uproariously funny. If it is so funny, why do not those who favour hunting take a trip to Kenya and stand unprotected in a lion reserve and see if they enjoy the hunt? I admit that I might enjoy watching it. Prolongation of terror is wrong. Those who practise it when there are alternatives that are already widely practised do wrong. Yes, the scenes of a hunt are splendid, so splendid that they are all over my dining room curtains, but they are colourful scenes of olde England, and in olde England, not in modern Britain, they belong.

Ann Widdecombe – 1987 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Ann Widdecombe in the House of Commons on 28 October 1987.

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my first speech in the House in this important debate. In doing so, I pay tribute to my distinguished predecessor, Sir John Wells, who served the constituency with dedication and distinction for 28 years. His period of service will be remembered by his former constituents with respect and affection, as I am sure it will also be remembered by Members of the House. He earned respect for his exemplary chairmanship of many important parliamentary Committees and affection for the colourful way in which he sometimes drew attention to the needs of his constituents. On one occasion, he arrived for the day’s business on a horse. On another, he enlivened proceedings in the Chamber by eating an apple—a Kentish apple, of course—during the debate. I hope to follow his example in dedicating myself to the service of my constituents, but I shall not be eating any apples in the Chamber, as history attests rather strongly to the unfortunate results of ladies eating apples where they should not.

My constituency has suffered badly from the recent wind storms. As a horticulturist, Sir John Wells would have understood all too well the misery and devastation suffered by many farmers, expecially the fruit farmers whose industry takes up such a large part of the constituency that I have the honour to serve. I hope that the Government will see fit to provide some compensation, in however cautious and measured a way, to those who have lost their livelihood not just in the immediate term but for years to come, because it will be some time before replanted trees can be expected to produce crops which will generate income.

Leaving the country areas for the town of Maidstone, I am proud to have in that town concrete and tangible evidence of the Government’s firm commitment to the National Health Service in the shape of a large new modern hospital. I regret to tell the House, however, that, due to inequitable distribution of funds by the South East Thames regional health authority, that hospital is not being used as fully or as beneficially as it should be. On an appropriate future occasion, I hope to draw attention to the difficulties experienced by my constituents as a result of that inequitable distribution of funds.

I address myself to the debate and to the Opposition amendments in the sure knowledge that I address myself to a subject of the utmost importance and interest to my constituents. I begin by congratulating the Government on the Defence Estimates and particularly on the sound basis on which they have drawn up plans for the nation’s security. I believe that the people of Britain will draw great comfort and reassurance from the fact that they are governed by a party which is wholly committed to an effective nuclear deterrent.

I spent many hours yesterday and some today listening to Opposition Members decrying the Trident programme. I thought that they had been sufficiently effectively answered yesterday, but today we have heard the same tired arguments, based on the same flawed logic. Both in their amendments and in the many distinguished speeches that we have heard, the Opposition have claimed that the Trident programme is undesirable because it eats into conventional defence expenditure. There is a severe absence of logic in that statement. It is true that if we did not spend the money on Trident we could use it to purchase conventional weapons or, indeed, anything we liked — sacks of potatoes, biros, pounds of butter, or whatever. If we are to spend Trident money on something other than Trident, we must ask ourselves whether the optional thing that we are purchasing is capable of doing the job of Trident. If it is not capable of doing that job and fulfilling the aims of Trident, it does not matter that we could buy it with Trident money. It is totally irrelevant.

The sole objective of Trident is to deter a potentially hostile force from launching a nuclear attack on this country, or to deter a hostile force with overwhelmingly superior conventional forces from attempting to use that superiority to launch a conventional attack. Therefore, if we are to give up Trident to buy conventional weapons, we must demand that those weapons are an equally effective deterrent.

The statement on the Defence Estimates suggests that, if we devote all the Trident money to conventional weapons, we might be able to buy and maintain 300 tanks for an armoured division. I am sure that it is very laudable and worthy to buy 300 tanks for an armoured division but, when the Warsaw pact countries have a superiority of 30,000 tanks, it will not be a very effective deterrent. We can do the same arithmetical exercise for artillery, where we are outnumbered by 3:1, and in anti-tank guided weapons by 1.6:1. We can continue that exercise, but we shall not end up with a replacement that serves the same aim as Trident. We shall simply replace something designed to do one job with something designed to do a totally different job.

Opposition Members were not terribly kind to the Government last night when summing up. The hon. Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. Hughes) said that he would not award a CSE pass to the Government for the reasoning behind their Defence Estimates but, after listening yesterday and for several hours today to the Opposition, I do not believe that they have reached a standard of elementary logic which would get them through the 11-plus. Perhaps that is why they have such an antipathy towards that examination. My nephews and nieces at the age of eight or nine, let alone 11, could have told Opposition Members that, if they are given the bus fare to get home and they spend it on a taxi ride, they will not get the same value because the bus will take them only a few yards.

If we spend the Trident money on 300 tanks or whatever—frigates are much beloved of the Opposition —we shall find that we have gone not even a few yards or feet but only a few inches towards an effective deterrent, whereas Trident would do the entire job, so the logic is flawed. If we all took to the hills—as the Opposition came perilously close to suggesting not long ago—and invested our Trident money in bows and arrows, those bows and arrows might outnumber those of the Warsaw pact countries and would be about as useful as some of the arguments put forward by the Opposition.

Opposition Members are trying to have it all ways when they argue that, if we are to have an independent deterrent, it must be truly independent. I am not quite sure what Opposition Members stand for. The distinguished and right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) said that we do not have a truly independent deterrent because the Americans will do the servicing. We said very clearly—I am sorry that the Opposition did not understand the point—that we shall always have control over some of the missiles. Does the right hon. Gentleman seriously believe that, when he sends a suit to the cleaners, he has no clothes at all and must come into the Chamber in a state of sartorial dilapidation because he has no suit?

Finally, in desperation, Opposition Members decided to try to claim that the conventional imbalance was a figment of the Government’s imagination, that it did not exist, and in support of that they triumphantly produced a document brought out by the International Institute for Strategic Studies and quoted it with the reverence normally reserved for Holy Writ. They said, “Look, this says something entirely different.” I have read that document and I find that within its figures there is ample evidence, which is clearly set out and not at all disguised, that the Warsaw pact enjoys an overwhelming numerical superiority of conventional weapons. I commend page 226 to the Opposition for further study. They may not have got that far.

The amendment submitted in the name of the Leader of the Opposition is serious, because it exhorts the Government to take a headlong flight to abandon and abolish all battlefield nuclear weapons simultaneously with reductions on the conventional side. That is simply and solely the wrong timing. There must be no further reductions beyond the INF treaty agreements. There must be no further reductions in nuclear weapons until such time as the conventional imbalance — whether one believes the Government’s document or the IISS document—is eliminated.

In that context, I should like to ask my hon. Friend the Minister for reassurance later. It is said that the statement on the Defence Estimates was drawn up at a time when the finer ramifications of the INF proposals, particularly the inclusion of shorter-range intermediate missiles, had riot been fully understood. Such are the massive implications for our conventional spending, not only for Britain, which already spends the third highest percentage of gross domestic product in NATO on defence, but for all our NATO partners, that we should be assured that not only will there be no simultaneous negotiations for the reduction of battlefield nuclear weapons, but that there will be a good long cool gap before any agreement that we may reach on conventional weapons while we assess the implications.

So desperate were the anti-Trident Opposition that they said that there was supposed to be an escalation of the arms race. One sees such words in the amendments. That is interesting. An arms race implies that each side is trying to keep up with the other, but as I read it, the number of warheads on Trident is a lower proportion of Warsaw pact warheads than Polaris was when we first had it. So that is not an escalation.

The Opposition used the worn-out argument that because the warheads were independently targeted, we had increased our numbers. However, if one is talking about an arms race, one must also look at what the other side is doing. Surely it is only prudent, when designing a system, to say that if one ever reached the highly undesirable state when one needed to increase one’s warheads, one should have the system to make that possible. The cost of the Chevaline operation that was forced upon the Labour Government can be interpreted as the cost of not having sufficient forward defence planning at the time of procurement.

I regret that in this, my first speech in the House, I have had to devote so much time to the wild and woolly arguments of the Opposition. I am also rather surprised that they are still putting forward in the House the Alice-in-Wonderland reasoning that lost them the June election. I say to them: Come back from Wonderland. Do not go through the looking glass with Alice. Instead, stay in front of the looking glass and take a good long look. Do the Opposition’s policies reflect public opinion? No. But more importantly, do their policies have any bearing on the real world? Surely the answer must still be no. Thus the Opposition should stand at that looking glass and look in. But my belief is that the general public, as exhibited in poll after poll, have reason to be thankful and grateful to the Government who have drawn up their plans on a sound and effective deterrent rather than being able to offer no strategy and no alternative.

Ann Widdecombe – 2001 Speech on Setting Public Services Free

Below is the text of the speech made by Ann Widdecombe, the Shadow Home Secretary, on 6 June 2001.

My political roots lie in the Sixties, at a time when rules and values were often seen as not only being irrelevant but positively dangerous. If you were young at that time, you were led to believe that the world owed you a living, and all you had to do was to shout loud enough or demonstrate long enough and it would be handed to you on a plate. It won’t come as much of a surprise if I tell you that I saw things rather differently.

I went into politics from a sense of vocation. I suspect I might have had a far more comfortable life if I had gone into the City or into PR or anyone of a hundred different professions, but the Sixties were after all about passionate convictions and I suppose I must have picked up something.

Doesn’t mean I have a closed mind. Many of you will know that I’ve thought long and hard about my religious views, and some time ago that caused me to change my Church. But I haven’t changed my Party, not because I’ve stopped thinking about my political values but because I’ve tested them, and challenged them, and found Conservative values as relevant today as they have ever been.

And that’s about making sure that Government serves, and doesn’t end up so grand and so overbearing that it stifles the very service it aims to give. Which, of course, is what’s happening today. Don’t take my word for it….

· Ask any doctor or any nurse, and they will tell you – they spend more and more time sitting in front of computers and filling in Government forms rather than sitting with patients.

· Ask any teacher. If you’re lucky they’ll come out from behind a mountain of Ministerial directives just long enough to tell you how every day they have to wade through a swamp of red tape before they get anywhere near a classroom.

· And our police, too are filling in forms. Or job applications.

I entered politics from a sense of vocation, just as others – our doctors, nurses, teachers, policemen and the rest – also followed their sense of vocation. But that’s where the similarity ends, because in politics you expect to find obstacles thrown in your way at every turn. It goes with the territory.

But that wasn’t the deal for those who’ve devoted themselves to caring for our sick, our elderly, our young, or keeping our law and order. They’re not politicians, and they shouldn’t find their careers turned into an obstacle course by politicians. Or otherwise they will turn away, as tens of thousands have turned away in recent years.

I don’t blame them. A country in which clinical decisions are made not on the basis of medical priority but on the basis of some politician’s pledge card is a sick country. A country in which schools get Ministerial directives before they get new books is a neglected country. A country in which our police are fighting red tape rather than criminals is a country that has been cheated by its government.

The Sixties were all about passion. Some invested their passion in –shall we say – quite exotic areas, while I invested my passion in politics. Because I wanted to change things.

And things need changing, nowhere more so than in our public services.

That is our commitment. To set our public services free, to do their jobs as they know best. It’s a commitment that will be there long after those tawdry little pledge cards that others hawk around have become no more than a pile of litter.

Ann Widdecombe – 2001 Speech to Conservative Spring Forum

Below is the text of the speech made by Ann Widdecombe, the then Shadow Home Secretary, to the Conservative Spring Forum held on 3 March 2001.

Four years on, they have failed to deliver. Instead, they’ve been tough on the crimefighters. There are 2,500 fewer police since 1997. 6,000 fewer special constables. The Chairman of the Police Federation says that morale is the worst he has ever seen it.

They’ve been tough on the victims of crime. Remember what their manifesto pledged? That they would ‘ensure that victims are kept fully informed of the progress of their case’. But just this week, Labour’s so-called 10 Year Crime Plan said, ‘Victims and witnesses want to be kept informed. Current performance is not good enough.’

What a damning indictment of their own record. An admission that they have failed to deliver on their promises.

This week Labour made a new set of promises in their so-called Crime Plan. They’ve failed to deliver on the promises they made last time – their solution is to make yet another set of promises.

But let’s take their record into consideration. Broken promise after broken promise. In 1995, Tony Blair said Labour would put ‘thousands more police officers on the beat’. Instead there are 2,500 fewer officers. In 1997, Tony Blair said his child curfew orders would prevent ‘young children wandering the streets at night, getting into trouble, growing into a life of criminality’. Result? Not one child curfew has ever been made. Not a single child has been turned away from a life of criminality. Their manifesto pledged to support the police – but 250 criminals who have assaulted police officers have served less than one third of their prison terms on Labour’s special early release scheme.

This week, Labour talked about tougher sentences. Don’t you believe it. They’ve already let more than 31,000 criminals out of jail up to 2 months earlier than normal on their special early release scheme. Under Labour, if you get six months, you’ll be out in six weeks. Even John Prescott gets through more of his sentences than that.

And 1,000 extra crimes have been committed by those criminals, released early by Labour, when they should have been in prison. That’s Labour’s real approach – to let more and more prisoners out of jail earlier and earlier.

The next Labour Government will give the ‘get out of jail free’ card to even more criminals. Last week, Jack Straw’s special adviser admitted in a leaked memo that their new sentencing plans involve 11,500 more criminals spending less time in prison each year – something he described as ‘a significant softening of sentencing arrangements’.

Before the last election, Labour promised they’d be ‘tough on crime’. Now Jack Straw says that it depends on the criminals whether crime falls or not. An admission of failure.

The next Conservative Government will go to war on the criminal as never before.

Right now, the police force stands depleted and demoralised, burdened with bureaucracy and performance indicators. That has got to change, and fast. So the next Conservative Government will reverse Labour’s cuts in police numbers. We will ensure that they spend their time doing just what they joined up to do, and just what the people of this country want them to do – fighting crime.

Our ‘cops in shops’ proposals will mean that more communities see their local police officers out and about. It’s a simple, common sense initiative. The officer doesn’t go back to the station to write up his reports, he writes them up in shops and other public places. This has a threefold advantage. First of all, he’s visible. Secondly, he can interact with the community. And thirdly, he is a deterrent.

And we’re going to have a national police cadet force to make sure that more young people choose a career in the police, and to ensure that their first contact with the police is a positive, confidence-building experience. That’s Common Sense.

Labour have admitted that they’ve broken their promises to victims and given them a raw deal. The next Conservative Government will change that. We’ll overhaul the law so that it’s on the side of the victim, not the criminal. And victims will be given new statutory rights. The right to a named police officer and lawyer as a point of contact. The right to be kept informed of progress in their cases. The right of access to files if they want to mount a private prosecution. We’ll put Victims First.

Conservatives will put in place new laws to tackle drug dealers. Those who repeatedly deal to children will in future be given tough mandatory prison sentences. And why should we have laws which give the police powers to combat opium dens, but not crack houses?

We’ll end Labour’s special early release scheme, under which thousands of robbers, burglars and drug dealers have served less time in prison. Honesty in sentencing will ensure that the sentence handed down in court is the sentence that is served. And when they’re in prison, rather than lying around in idleness, prisoners will do meaningful work, work from which money can be paid to support their families on the outside and as reparation to their victims. Young menaces will be taken off the streets, put into Secure Training Centres, and given a real chance to change.

Labour will always spin and never deliver. They’ve broken the promises they made at the last election and now they’re making new promises to break after the next one.

Let’s leave the final word to Jack Straw’s own political adviser, who says that Labour’s policy “doesn’t look very impressive”.

There can only be one verdict on Jack Straw and Tony Blair: guilty as charged.

There can only be one sentence passed on Labour: to be thrown out of office for a term of at least five years.

The next Conservative Government will deliver. And with your help, we’ll win the next election and send the whole Labour Party down.