Asked what the Prime Minister thought of the protesting outside Parliament, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that when the Prime Minister met representatives of the pro hunt organisations in his constituency last Friday, and again at Chequers, he had underlined that he recognised that there were strong emotions on all sides of this debate. He had also recognised there was a legitimate right to peaceful protest, but the emphasis had to be on peaceful protest. It was for others to judge whether that criteria has been met or not.
Asked if the Prime Minister backed the police behaviour this afternoon, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister believed, as always, that the Police had a very difficult task in these sorts of circumstances and he backed them wholly in their attempts to fulfil that task. Striking the right balance between allowing peaceful protest to take place, and protecting the processes of Parliament as it debates an issue, was, he recognised, one that was very difficult given the strong emotions involved.
Asked whether the Prime Minister thought the right balance had been struck, the PMOS said it was for others to judge the particular event and not for him to give instant judgements on what had happened. But the Prime Minister recognised that in these sorts of circumstances the Police had a very difficult job. Protest had a proper place in society, but equally that protest must be peaceful.
Asked about the Prime Minister’s whereabouts this afternoon and whether or not he would vote, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister was in No. 10 where he had a series of meetings during the afternoon and into the evening. Asked if the Prime Minister’s vote would become apparent, the PMOS said that this was a free vote and the advantage of a free vote was that you could watch and see. The Prime Minister had not voted on any of the procedural issues up to this point.
Asked if the Prime Minister was worried about the prospect of Police resources being put under strain and whether he thought it worth all of this extra police time taken up for the sake of a ban, the PMOS said that police resources had already been taken up policing anti-hunt protests wherever hunts took place. It was a fact of life and something that had to be taken into consideration. The Prime Minister’s view was that he would much rather we hadn’t got to this stage, that he would rather there had been an acceptance on all sides for the compromise approach, which was why he strongly backed the efforts of Alun Michael over the many months that he tried to get that compromise, unfortunately that hadn’t been possible.
Put to him by Sky News in language not appropriate for the lobby note, that it was wrong to say the Prime Minister had supported a compromise, the PMOS said that it was not helpful to inject emotion into questions, and that we must debate this in a rational manner without losing tempers, especially as there was so much strong emotion out on the streets. We had an extra duty to debate this in a rational way. He said that given the efforts the government had put in, particularly in the last year, to try and find a compromise approach which would involve a licensing system, and the efforts and many hours that Alun Michael had put in trying to find a compromised way forward, it was not fair to say the government had not made an effort to find a way forward. Unfortunately, that hadn’t been possible because people had taken very absolute positions on this. The Prime Minister regretted that but equally he recognised that there was a commitment in two manifestos to resolve this issue in the Parliament.
In answer to further questions, the PMOS said it was a free vote and the Prime Minister’s vote counted as little or as much as every other MP. What mattered was that Parliament was having a debate on the issue and that MPs were able to express their opinions through their vote in a free way. The Prime Minister had not mysteriously stayed in the background in terms of supporting the efforts of Alun Michael to try and find a way forward. Equally he believed it was important now that there should be a delay to allow people time to adapt to the new situation. It looks like that proposal was going to be accepted.
Asked again why he couldn’t say whether the Prime Minister would vote, the PMOS reiterated what he said this morning, that if the Prime Minister had been asked the question in the House, he would have answered the question. He wasn’t asked the question.
Asked why the Prime Minister didn’t answer Michael Howard’s question in the House today about why so much time had been given to such a relatively unimportant issue, the PMOS said he did not want to get involved in party political matters but there were two points he could make. One was that this was not the only thing the government was dealing with. Second, this vote was going ahead because there was a commitment in two manifestos to resolve the issue with a free vote and that was what’s happening. Asked if the Prime Minister regretted including the issue in two manifestos, the PMOS said that was a party political issue.
Briefing took place at 15:45 | Search for related news
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