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Monday, September 20, 1999 Published at 05:50 GMT 06:50 UK

No shooting or fishing ban - Blair

Fox hunting faces ban, but fishing and shooting in clear

The prime minister has promised shooting and fishing will not go the same way as fox hunting, which is set to be banned in the forthcoming session of Parliament.

Fox hunting
Writing in Monday's Daily Telegraph, Tony Blair gaves his broadest hint yet that MPs will be given a free vote on whether to ban hunting with hounds in the coming parliamentary year.

The vast majority of Labour MPs support a ban and a free vote would almost certainly ring the death knell for the controversial blood-sport.

The BBC's Margaret Gilmore: "Mr Blair says hunting is a minority pastime"
Countryside campaigners are expected to lobby Labour's annual conference in Bournemouth at the end of this month in an attempt to change Mr Blair's mind.

Meanwhile, an alternative to an all-out ban on fox hunting will be unveiled on Monday at the Liberal Democrat conference in Harrogate.

The compromise plan suggests making some hunt practices illegal, such as digging out foxes with terriers.

But it is thought Mr Blair is not keen on a compromise and is about to grant the anti-hunting lobby's wish.

He writes in the Telegraph: "Hunting with hounds remains very much a minority pastime, even in those areas of our countryside where it has a rich tradition."

'Imaginary threats'

Mr Blair says the hunting lobby, seeing the writing on the wall for hunting, had sought to muddy the waters by painting Labour as an "anti-countryside" party.

[ image: Hounds mean less cruelty, says hunt supporters]
Hounds mean less cruelty, says hunt supporters
He says there had been "imaginary threats to shooting and fishing".

Mr Blair says the hunting lobby has also terrorised rural voters with "scare stories" about ramblers trampling across their gardens and the countryside disappearing beneath millions of new homes.

He gives categorical assurances to anglers and shooters that their sports are safe in his hands.

"There will be no ban on the country pursuits of shooting and fishing ... as long as I am prime minister, I guarantee that this government will not allow any ban. We will not do it."

In July he angered the countryside lobby when he pledged to ban fox hunting as soon as possible. He said he hoped to find time in the coming Parliamentary session for a vote.

Government will ensure success

In November 1997 Worcester MP Michael Foster's Private Members' Bill was approved by a majority in Parliament but it failed to make it to the statute book due to lack of parliamentary time.

[ image: Tens of thousands of Britons enjoy fishing]
Tens of thousands of Britons enjoy fishing
This time, the Home Office is expected to draft a proper bill and make sure it gets sufficient time to become legislation.

Paul Latham, a spokesman for the Countryside Alliance pressure group, responded angrily to Mr Blair's comments.

He said: "Whether Mr Blair likes it or not, hunting has become the touchstone of concern about rural areas and the symbol of threat to rural communities.

"It is all very well for Mr Blair to say shooting and fishing are safe in his hands, but if he proceeds with a ban on hunting it opens the way for animal rights groups to turn their effort towards a ban on shooting and fishing which has been their declared aim for years."

But anti-hunting Labour MP Angela Smith said the Alliance was trying to put fishermen and shooters in the "front line" as a tactic to thwart a hunting ban.

"I can't see such legislation going through the House of Commons at all," she told BBC Radio Four's Today programme.

"I don't see any movement at all along the lines that the Countryside Alliance are alleging, I think it's scare tactics that they are trying to employ."

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