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The Campaign for Hunting's Simon Hart
"No politicians should meddle with minorities"
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The BBC's Nicholas Jones
"A strict licensing regime has been attracting increased support"
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Monday, 15 January, 2001, 22:52 GMT
Pro-hunt vigil continues
Pro-hunt demonstration
Hunt supporters often protest outside Parliament
Pro-hunt supporters are continuing their round-the-clock vigil outside the Houses of Parliament in the run-up to Wednesday's vote on whether to ban hunting in England and Wales.

MPs will have a free vote on three options: to keep hunting with hounds with only voluntary controls, to ban it outright or allow it under licence.

Up to a dozen protestors from marginal constituencies are maintaining a 24-hour presence at the vigil until the vote in an effort to persuade MPs to reconsider their support for a ban.

What we are looking for is a proper balance between the highest possible animal welfare standards and no infringement of human rights

Simon Hart
Campaign for Hunting
A small camp has been set up in Parliament Square at the same spot where Winnie the pig was stationed during an earlier three-month long farmers' protest.

No livestock have been drafted in this time but the hunt supporters hope to make their point with banners, placards and leaflets.

They have invited MPs, peers and the public to visit them and discuss the issues.

The licensing option has been attracting increased support since being backed by Home Secretary Jack Straw, and ministers Kate Hoey and Jeff Rooker have also promised their backing.

The Middle Way group believes other ministers such as Robin Cook, Peter Mandelson, Michael Meacher and possibly Nick Brown may be open to persuasion.

Simon Hart, director of the Campaign for Hunting, urged MPs to follow Mr Straw's example and support a "balanced" scheme for hunting instead of an outright ban.

Hunt vigil member Hilary Chasteauneuf with lurcher Sweet
Hunt supporter Hilary Chasteauneuf with lurcher Sweet at the vigil
He said the hunting community had been treated dismissively as "second-class citizens" by politicians and maintained that the government-commissioned Burns Inquiry gave no grounds to criminalise the sport.

He said there was a need for a "proper balance between the highest possible animal welfare standards and no infringement of human rights".

"We think the option that the [Countryside] Alliance has supported, which is increasing hunting's openness and accountability via statutory supervision, is the best way of achieving that proper balance.

"MPs who are concerned on animal welfare should vote for that option - if they are more concerned in wreaking revenge on a section of the community they bear a grudge against, then they will vote to ban hunting.

"It will expose them as bigoted and prejudiced."

Beaufort hunt
Restrictions of some sort on hunting with dogs are likely
The Hunting Bill was given a second reading on a free vote with a majority of 215 before Christmas, despite a big demonstration by farmers, pro-hunters and rural dwellers on the streets of Westminster.

Alongside the new vigil, hunt supporters are planning to picket the constituency offices of James Plaskitt, Labour MP for Warwick and Leamington, who has consistently voted for a ban in the past.

Among the demonstrators expected at the vigil is Labour peer Baroness Mallalieu, president of the Countryside Alliance, which is organising the protests.

Further protest meetings are planned on Wednesday around Britain in areas including Somerset, Swindon, Wales, Higham in Essex and Camelford in Cornwall.

The Maidstone constituency of anti-hunting shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe, who is passionately in favour of a ban, is also expected to be targeted.

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