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Thursday, 8 March, 2001, 12:57 GMT
Hunting deal hopes after talks
Hunt
Most MPs support a total ban on hunting with hounds
The Countryside Alliance (CA) says it will seriously consider the "middle way" of statutory controls on hunting.

But the lobby group's chairman, John Jackson, insists it is not brokering a deal with the government in an attempt to save the pursuit.

Mr Jackson confirmed reports that he had met the prime minister's chief of staff on Monday, news which had fuelled speculation for a compromise to head a hunting ban.

The controversial bill outlawing hunting with hounds has cleared the House of Commons, but is expected to be blocked in the Lords.

A fox skin in front of Big Ben, London
Anti-hunt campaigners object to any deal on hunting

Mr Jackson told BBC News on Thursday the CA preferred self-regulation but would consider the so-called middle way solution for statutory controls if the option appeared to have cross-party and prime ministerial support.

"There has been no question of a deal, there have been no smoke filled rooms, and that is not in fact the way in which these things are done," he said.

He continued: "The Alliance is a campaigning organisation with a very large membership and we have to be sensitive to the way in which opinion is moving, including the opinion of our own members."

A Downing Street spokesman also confirmed that Mr Jackson had met Mr Powell but said there had also been meetings with the RSPCA on the issue.

There are fears that any compromise on hunting is in danger of falling through because of splits within the CA.

The Times on Wednesday said Mr Jackson had accused "hot-heads" in the CA - who refuse to change their position - of risking "losing the game for everyone".

There are three options in the hunting Bill; keeping hunting with self-regulation, a total ban and the "middle way" option.

The latter would outlaw the worst cruelties in hunting, but stop short of the total ban favoured by most MPs.

It is thought to be the prime minister's preferred option in the hope of avoiding confrontation with rural voters at the election, according to The Times, which sees the talks as an indication a deal might be on the cards.

However, the alliance's leadership has been warned that it will face outright rebellion if it "sells out" to the government, it added.

'Compromise will please no-one'

Mr Jackson is also reported to have said that he is inclined to believe that the government wants to "kick the issue into touch pre-election in a way which mollifies the countryside".

A spokesman for the UK branch of the anti-hunting International Fund for Animal Welfare, told the BBC it believed a deal was being propagated by the CA, even though the group denied it.

But it said the CA's core membership would "go insane if it gave one inch".

"The 'middle way' will please no one in this campaign, pro or anti" he said.

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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
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