Politics: Anti-hunting lobby condemns Steel payments

Paddy Ashdown said David Steel, his predecessor, did `nothing wrong' in taking pounds 94,000 from the hunt lobby. But Colin Brown, Chief Poli tical Correspondent, says anti-hunt groups were furious.
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The League Against Cruel Sports condemned Lord Steel for accepting the money for working two-days' a week as part-time chairman of the Countryside Movement. The size of the fees paid to Lord Steel was revealed yesterday by the Independent on Sunday.

John Cooper, league chairman: "David Steel should be thoroughly ashamed ... I'm sure supporters of the British Field Sports Society will also be disappointed to discover how much money has been wasted."

Three organisations - the Countryside Movement, the Countryside Business Group and the British Field Sports Society - joined forces as the Countryside Alliance to organise this summer's rally in London, at which Lord Steel, the former Liberal Democrat leader, spoke as part of the campaign to stop a Labour MP's bill to ban foxhunting.

Angrily attacking reports of Lord Steel's remuneration, Mr Ashdown said: "He's done absolutely nothing wrong."

Lord Steel had "followed precisely and scrupulously" the requirements laid down by the Nolan Committee on standards in public life, said Mr Ashdown the day before Lord Steel is due to arrive at the conference.

The Liberal Democrat leader said: "David's position is well-known. Incidentally, it's the same as mine: that he is against hunting personally, and I am too. That is not to say that he supports legislation at this moment."

In a statement, Lord Steel said: "The story in [the] Independent on Sunday presents a travesty of the Countryside Movement and is defamatory of me. The few facts in it are neither `revealed' nor `exclusive' as the paper claims, but have been in the public domain, including other newspapers, for months.

"This is a tendentious piece of journalism designed to coincide with the... annual party conference and to promote the paper's flagging circulation."