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Thursday, 15 November, 2001, 16:20 GMT
Labour MPs demand fox hunting vote
Hunt member and hounds
Critics say new conditions are a 'hunt saboteurs charter'
Labour MPs have demanded the government allows a free vote on fox hunting before Christmas.

The call was made after it was announced fox hunting could resume in foot-and-mouth free areas in December - the first time since it was banned to contain the epidemic in February.

Former ministers Tony Banks and Gerald Kaufman said it was time the promise of a vote, made in Labour's election manifesto and the Queen's speech, was fulfilled.

Animal rights groups criticised the government for allowing hunts to re-start, while the pro-hunting lobby said new rules governing meets would be manipulated by hunt saboteurs.

'Early decision'

West Ham MP Mr Banks said 225 MPs from all parties had called for an "early decision" on the "hunting of wild mammals with dogs".

It really is about time the government started thinking about the 225 MPs rather than appeasing the Countryside Alliance

Tony Banks
He said: "It really is about time the government started thinking about the 225 MPs rather than appeasing the Countryside Alliance."

Mr Kaufman, MP for Manchester Gorton, said: "We expect this vote by Christmas so that should this House vote in favour of a ban on hunting with dogs there will be sufficient time in this session to get it through the House of Lords."

Commons Leader Robin Cook replied: "The position stated in the Queen's Speech was that there would be a free vote on this issue, in this session and that will take place."

'Hunt saboteurs charter'

The decision to lift the ban on fox hunting means it can resume on December 17 in all areas except Devon, Cumbria, Lancashire, North Yorkshire and the Welsh borders.

But the proposals for a special permits system, announced by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs were immediately attacked as a "hunt saboteurs charter".

Hunting groups fear saboteurs will exploit a new rule which means a permit can be refused if organisers are unable to control people following on foot.

A spokesman for the Countryside Alliance told BBC News Online it was concerned by reports that "Defra is preparing to hold hunts responsible for the activities of those dedicated to disrupting them."

Hunts will also have to inform officials about the date, time and location of hunts, the likely area to be covered and the number of people taking part.

Rural Affairs Minister Elliot Morley admitted the system would be "onerous" but said it was necessary to ensure there was not a resurgence of foot-and-mouth.

'Enormous impact

Farmers complain about the uncontrolled number of foxes on their land
And Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael called on people on both sides of the argument to behave responsibly as far as foot-and-mouth is concerned.

He also confirmed vets had given the clearance for fox hunting in some areas back in September, but denied sitting on the report.

Alistair Jackson, director of the Masters of Foxhounds Association, told BBC News Online the government had been "playing politics" by delaying the release of the report.

Foot-and-mouth fears

Douglas Batchelor, of the League Against Cruel Sports, told the BBC that "any resumption of hunting is an unreasonable risk to take."

"Foot-and-mouth disease is not completely eradicated," he said.

The last confirmed case of foot-and-mouth was more than a month ago, on 30 September at Appleby in Cumbria.

The traditional start to the hunting season should have been marked on 3 November.

See also:

03 Nov 01 | UK
Fox hunters seek end to ban
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