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Wednesday, 28 February, 2001, 11:49 GMT
Anger as hunt bill clears Commons
A ban on hunting has moved a step closer
The controversial bill outlawing hunting with hounds has cleared the House of Commons amid angry protests from some MPs.

Conservative and Liberal Democrat frontbench spokesmen said parliamentary time would have been better spent discussing the foot-and-mouth outbreak.

This is a very important day for animal welfare

Campaign for the Protection of Hunted Animals
But the Commons voted the bill through by a margin of 319 to 140 - a majority of 179 - in the small hours of Wednesday morning.

A hunt ban - one of three options in the bill - was overwhelmingly backed by the Commons earlier this year.

The bill now goes to the House of Lords where peers have vowed to block the ban.

They are likely to instead support the so-called "middle way" option - allowing hunting to continue with regulation.

The leader of Conservative peers, Lord Strathclyde, has said the measure has no chance of becoming law because a general election is thought to be only weeks away.

If a poll is called before the bill clears all its parliamentary hurdles it would fail and have to be reintroduced in a new session of parliament.

But the bill could still be saved - by the foot-and-mouth outbreak which some believe will push the likely election date back until later this year.

Anti-hunting groups welcomed the bill clearing the House of Commons.

Nobody can pretend that this House of Commons is doing its duty by the countryside

Paul Tyler
Lib Dems
Douglas Batchelor, chairman of the Campaign for the Protection of Hunted Animals, said: "This is a very important day for animal welfare and a major step forward in the campaign to end the cruelty of hunting."

He urged peers to put aside "personal prejudice and vested interests" and support the bill.

But the pro-hunting Countryside Alliance said Tuesday's debate should have been shelved for an emergency session on the foot-and-mouth outbreak.

Chief executive Richard Burge said the outbreak was a "crisis" for rural Britain yet ministers had refused to free up time "reserved merely for debate on a bill which will not help a single rural family and which would, if enacted, inflict yet another assault on their communities".

He was echoing complaints during the debate from Tory home affairs spokesman David Lidington who said the government was demonstrating priorities "verging on the surreal".

Liberal Democrat chief whip Paul Tyler said: "Nobody can pretend that this House of Commons is doing its duty by the countryside, by the rural community."

But Home Office minister Mike O'Brien defended the government's actions.

He said: "People in the countryside expect the opposition to deal with the issues in this bill. Let's get on and debate them."

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28 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Foot-and-mouth 'could delay election'
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