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Wednesday, 17 January, 2001, 16:28 GMT
Hunt argument takes centre stage
Anti-hunt protestors
Restrictions of some sort on hunting with dogs are likely
Hunt supporters gathered for defiant protests across the country as MPs debated a ban on hunting with dogs in England and Wales.

About 2,000 supporters, including 400 horses and riders, attended a rally at Higham, on the Essex-Suffolk border, where the hounds caught and killed a fox.

We are being robbed of our liberty and our livelihood

Robin Hanbury-Tenison, Countryside Alliance
The protesters say the Hunting Bill threatens their livelihood, culture and tradition.

Despite the widespread expectation that ministers will back a ban in the free vote, they deny anti-hunt claims that killing foxes with hounds is cruel.

Commons protest

Anti-hunting groups dressed as foxes and deer assembled outside the House of Commons where pro-hunt supporters have staged a 24-hour vigil since last week.

Before 360 huntsmen left the Royal Welsh showground in Builth Wells, Mark Hinge, of the Countryside Alliance, said a ban would be unenforceable.

"Hundreds of people are willing to go to prison over this issue," he said.

Hounds from the York and Ainsty Hunt
The RSPCA says hunting hounds would not have to be killed
"It would be impossible to ban hunting."

Huntsman David Jones was also defiant.

"This government has pushed us into this corner. If they push us any further they will have a bigger fight on their hands."

More than 200 riders on horses and another 600 supporters on foot gathered in Camelford, Cornwall, for what they said was the "biggest hunt ever on British soil".

Robin Hanbury-Tenison, former chief-executive of the Countryside Alliance, read a letter to the crowd which was being sent to Tony Blair from the people of the West Country.

"We are being robbed of our liberty and our livelihood," it stated.

"A ban can do untold damage to the lives of very many people."

Job threat

Andrew Bellamy, 29, terrier man for the Dartmoor Hunt which travelled to Camelford from Ivybridge, said he would be devastated by a ban.

"If hunting is banned we will be homeless and have no jobs," he said.

"We will lose our house and home and have to destroy 100 hounds. A lot of people in the towns think it is for the upper-classes but it isn't."

Hunt supporter
Hunts say jobs are at threat by a hunt ban
Some hunt supporters said the support for a ban was led by urban MPs who knew little about country life.

Dick Lloyd, ex-chairman of the Devon and Somerset staghounds, said he had been involved in hunting on Exmoor for 53 years.

"This is being decided by a huge number of urbanite Labour MPs who know as much about hunting and the countryside as I know about jet airplanes - which is nothing. I think they just don't like country people."

Other blood sport enthusiasts claim horses used for hunting will have to be killed if hunting is banned.

Ban 'inevitable'

Animal welfare charities such as the RSPCA say the jobs, hounds and horses from existing hunts would not be threatened by a ban if they were used for drag hunts - which involve following a trail instead of a live prey.

Douglas Batchelor, of the League Against Cruel Sports, said the country already had legislation protecting domestic and farm animals.

"It is time we extended that to wild animals," he said.

"I understand the other arguments but I don't think most people agree with them. I think most are on the side of stopping cruelty to animals."

Speaking at the Higham protest, the Hunt Saboteurs' Association spokeswoman, Norma Dinnie-Wheall, said a ban was inevitable.

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17 Jan 01 | UK
The hunt bites back
17 Jan 01 | UK Politics
MPs set to ban fox hunting
15 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Hunting for victory
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Bragg battles for hunting reprieve
26 Dec 00 | UK
Fox hunters out in force
21 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Hunting Bill clears Commons hurdle
26 Jun 00 | Scotland
Hunting report under fire
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