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Wednesday, 6 December, 2000, 14:55 GMT
Fresh chance of hunt ban
MPs will have a free vote on a hunting bill
MPs are to be given a free vote on whether to ban hunting with dogs.

Plans to introduce the long-awaited Bill were announced in the Queen's speech on Wednesday.

Under the proposals, MPs will be able to chose whether to support an outright ban, introduce regulation or back self-regulation for hunters.

The free vote means MPs will be able to vote with their consciences and will not be required to follow party lines.

Bill options
Complete hunting ban
Compulsory regulation with hunters requiring licences
Voluntary system of self-regulation
Home Secretary Jack Straw has insisted that the government remains neutral on the issue.

As a result of the free vote, a bill outlawing hunting is expected to pass through the Commons.

However, it stands a high risk of being defeated in the Lords where many peers are sympathetic to the pro-hunting lobby.

Pressure groups

The three options being put forward by the government have come from three pressure groups Deadline 2000, the Middle Way Group and the Countryside Alliance.

The options to be put before MPs are:

  • an almost total ban on hunting with dogs
  • a compulsory regulatory system which would require all of those who wanted to hunt to obtain a licence
  • a voluntary system of self regulation.

    The Burns inquiry, published last June, examined the case for banning hunting. It found that between 6,000 and 8,000 jobs depended on hunting.

    It also revealed that up to 400,000 foxes are killed each year.

    Ministers had toyed with the idea of holding local referenda to allow communities to decide whether to allow hunting in their areas.

    But that idea has been dropped after failing to attract much support from either pro or anti-hunting groups.

    Historic opportunity

    The Bill was hailed as a "historic opportunity" by the Deadline 2000 coalition of anti-hunting groups.

    Spokesman Douglas Batchelor, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, said: "Parliament has debated hunting many times before but never with a government bill and a guarantee of parliamentary times.

    "This is an historic opportunity to finally end this cruel and barbaric practice which has no place in modern society."

    But the Bill is likely to face fierce opposition from the pro-hunting Countryside Alliance and its supporters in Parliament.

    Countryside Alliance President and Labour peer Baroness Mallalieu told BBC News 24 she was "quite certain" there would not be a ban before the next election.

    She said she was uncertain how many MPs would vote against a ban but many peers opposed it.

    And she thought "Sensible people on all sides" would agree a compromise proposal involving supervision and licensing of hunts.

    "It is wrong to use the criminal law to enforce your personal prejudices," Lady Mallalieu added.

    MPs have tried to outlaw fox hunting for more than 50 years.

    The most recent bill, introduced in November 1997, was withdrawn six months later after heated debate in the Commons and after an estimated 250,000 people marched on London protesting against the bill.

    Those who support hunting say it is part of the rural way of life.

    Those opposed say it is nothing more than cruelty to animals.

    A bill banning hunting in Scotland is currently going through the Scottish Parliament.




    See also:

    23 Nov 00 | UK Politics
    16 Sep 99 | UK
    07 Aug 00 | UK Politics
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