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Thursday, 25 October, 2001, 07:00 GMT 08:00 UK
Government accused over hunting
Fox hunt
Hounds have been confined to kennels since February
Countryside groups have accused the government of trying to ban hunting in England and Wales by the back door.

The accusation has come as ministers and officials meet to decide whether to lift the ban.

Talks at the rural affairs ministry (Defra) were due to take place on Thursday.

The Countryside Action Network says a report assessing the risks of hunting spreading foot-and-mouth has been deliberately delayed for more than a month.

The season would normally have started by now, but hunting is not allowed because of animal movement restrictions.

At the same time walkers, riders and dog owners are being encouraged to roam the countryside.

Horses can spread the disease, even though they cannot be infected.

Hunt pressure

Fox hounds have been largely confined to kennels since February after many hunts voluntarily stopped going out, before the ban brought in to limit the spread of disease.

Pressure for a resumption of hunting has been growing in the last few weeks as the foot-and-mouth crisis has apparently been brought under control.

Vets have considered whether it risks spreading foot-and-mouth.

The Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs says its assessment on the foot-and-mouth risk posed by hunting has been completed and will be published in due course with a policy statement.

Hotel bookings

But pro-hunting Labour peer Baroness Mallalieu insists the assessment was ready several weeks ago.

She says places like Exmoor are suffering as followers of stag hunts are not booking hotel rooms or spending money in pubs and shops.

The Countryside Action Network says the government is dragging its heels because it wants hunting permanently banned.

Other field sports, such as shooting, have been allowed to restart.

The hunts have said they will listen to farmers but the pro-hunting Countryside Alliance says it believes most landowners would be happy to see hunting start again.

The League Against Cruel Sports believes any resumption will only be temporary.

It expects a bill to ban hunting to be brought foward in the current parliamentary session.

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The BBC's Jane O'Brien
"Animal movement restrictions mean that hunting with dogs remains banned"


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26 Sep 01 | Liberal Democrats
02 May 01 | Scotland
18 Jan 01 | UK Politics
18 Jan 01 | UK Politics
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