David Heath MP, Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for Somerton and Frome
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Constituency office: 14 Catherine Hill, Frome, Somerset, BA11 1BZ. Tel: 01373 473618
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The hunting debate

I hate not voting. As most people know, I have one of the highest voting records of any MPs, and itís not in my nature not to express an opinion. So why did I abstain in last weekís hunting vote?

Well, firstly of course I didnít throughout. I voted against the process the government used to force the bill through the House without proper debate or amendment because I believe it was an abuse of parliamentary process.

For instance, irrespective of oneís views on whether a ban is justified, surely natural justice requires those who are deprived of their livelihood through act of parliament, many of whom are poorly paid and in tied accommodation, to receive compensation, something which parliament was happy to give to the proprietors of mink farms when fur farming was banned. Yet we werenít permitted even to discuss such matters.

Nor is it because I do not have my own opinions, and it would have been much easier to have followed my own prejudices, even if I have made it clear previously that I do not consider the question of hunting a high priority for my constituency or even for animal welfare.

And because I do take such matters seriously I have gone to considerable lengths to inform myself about the debate. I have listened carefully and patiently to those on both sides of the argument, visited hunt kennels, read the compendious Burns Inquiry report with care, and read letters arriving in quantity from my constituents.

But that is the difficulty. Of the, literally, thousands of letters I have received, for every one demanding a ban there has been one equally passionately arguing against. The views of my constituents are equally balanced and equally strongly expressed on each side of the argument. Whichever way I cast my vote I would bitterly disappoint a very large minority of my constituents who would feel their strongly held views had been betrayed. And as an MP who tries hard to represent my constituents, it is impossible under those circumstances to do so appropriately.

For those who do feel passionately on either side of the argument, I know there will be some disappointment, but I hope also some understanding. For what I suspect is the majority who do not feel strongly about the issue, I doubt there will be great concern.

And for those who seek to gain political advantage by ignoring the dilemma faced by many MPs in constituencies similar to this or not understanding the duty an MP owes to his constituents, my advice is to grow up.


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