Letter: Steel represented the countryside, not hunting

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The Independent Online
Your Front page lead "Steel paid pounds 94,000 by foxhunt lobby" (21 September) gave the misleading impression that I had become a secretly well-paid hack to advocate hunting.

The truth is rather different and less sensational. By autumn 1995 I had long since announced my retirement from the Commons and was looking for other ways of earning a living when I was approached to head the new Countryside Movement. Throughout most of my 32 years in Parliament I had no significant outside interests. I was offered a good six-figure salary for a three-day week (but less than other ex-senior politicians have obtained in the commercial world).

I explained that until the general election (then widely expected to be in spring 1996) I could not give three days a week, but agreed to one and a half days and was paid pounds 75,000 as executive chairman. The fact that this was a paid job to develop after the election was announced at our launching press conference. The employment was properly registered in the Commons and I did not use that position for advocacy in Parliament. The salary was published in our accounts.

The countryside movement existed to deal with all countryside interests. In my 18 months I made only one speech on hunting - to a hunting organisation - and one on access. Most of our time was spent on issues from education to housing, from animal welfare to telephone masts and waste dumping. At the end I was glad to help organise the amalgamation of three organisations into one Countryside Alliance. I am proud to be deputy chairman of that, and chairman (unpaid!) of its countryside committee which deals with the non-field sports interests of the Alliance.

David Steel

London SW1