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The BBC's Nicholas Jones
"There is said to be growing support in the Lords for the middle way"
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Tuesday, 13 March, 2001, 04:32 GMT
Hunting Bill clears first hurdle
Peers are expected to reject a total ban
The Hunting Bill has cleared its first hurdle in the House of Lords following a 10-hour debate.

The Bill to ban hunting with hounds was given an unopposed second reading.

But pro-hunting peers could still delay the Bill to prevent it from becoming law.

More than 60 peers spoke during the debate and the Bill was denounced as "nothing more than a Labour Party stunt".

Conservative Lord Cope told peers that the Bill was being introduced even though it had no hope of becoming law before the expected general election on 3 May.

If the election is to be on 3 May, this bill is nothing more than a Labour Party stunt

Lord Cope

Lord Cope was one of 69 speakers to address peers in a marathon second reading debate in the Lords on Monday.

Peers will vote on three options for the future of foxhunting later this month.

These options are: Allowing hunting with dogs to continue with voluntary regulations, permitting hunting with dogs under licence from a new hunting authority; or completely banning the sport.

MPs have overwhelmingly supported an outright ban of foxhunting but peers are expected to reject that option.

Many members of the Lords believe that an outright ban cannot be justified and would restrict personal freedom.

Peers will have a free vote on the issue and it is understood that there is growing support for the so-called "middle way" option - allowing hunting under licence.

Government 'neutral'

Opening the debate, Home Office Minister Lord Bassam of Brighton said the government remained "neutral" on hunting.

He rejected suggestions that the Bill should be shelved because of the foot-and-mouth crisis.

"We will continue to take all necessary steps to contain the outbreak, so I reject any suggestion, that because of the current foot-and-mouth crisis, we should not be proceeding with this Bill.

Lord Bassam
Lord Bassam said the government was neutral on the issue
"Foot-and-mouth disease and hunting with dogs are two totally separate issues, and it is quite wrong of those who oppose any change to the law on hunting to seek to exploit the current difficulties our livestock industry are facing to further their campaign against this legislation."

Liberal Democrat peer Lord McNally said he would support an outright ban.

"This to me is an issue of animal cruelty on which parliament has a right to legislate and when the opportunity comes at committee stage, I shall vote for a total ban."

Crossbencher Lord Burns, who headed the committee of inquiry into hunting, told peers that he didn't want to express a view on whether foxhunting should be banned.

But he said if parliament opted to allow foxhunting to continue, he would support the establishment of a licensing authority.

However, he added: "I doubt if the non-hunting community would be satisfied with a self-regulatory body. But it is difficult to impose rules that should apply in all circumstances and in all regions."

Labour peer Lord Bragg said he would vote against a ban. He suggested there were many worse activities than foxhunting and said a ban would be "unjust and mean".

The Bill is expected to be thrown back to the House of Commons after its second reading in the Lords.

If an election were to be held on 3 May, parliament could be dissolved within weeks and the Bill would probably fall because of lack of time.

The prime minister's official spokesman has already said that banning hunting is not top of the government's list of priorities.

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See also:

28 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Anger as hunt bill clears Commons
07 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Second hunting bill seeks compromise
11 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Bragg battles for hunting reprieve
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