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Last Updated: Monday, 30 June, 2003, 05:28 GMT 06:28 UK
Pro-hunt women hold protest vigil
Hunt protestors
The vigil was organised to show women are involved in hunting
Hundreds of women from across the South West are holding a pro-hunting vigil in Parliament Square.

They are protesting ahead of Monday night's House of Commons debate on the government's hunting bill.

The Countryside Alliance, which organised the vigil, is opposed to the bill which proposes licences for fox hunting, as well as an outright ban on stag hunting and hare coursing.

But 145 backbench MPs have already signed an amendment calling for a total ban on fox hunting.

Members of Families For Hunting, who are staging the vigil and waving banners with the slogan "Pants to Prejudice", say the voting in of the bill would devastate the rural economy.

The South West regional director of the Countryside Alliance, Alison Hawes, said the vigil had been organised to show women are involved in hunting.

A fox hunt
MPs have signed an amendment calling for a total fox hunting ban
"A lot of women are very much involved in hunting," she said.

"Not only do they hunt, but they live in houses tied to hunts, as well as being grooms and providing livery and saddling services.

"They are as affected, if not more so, than their men folk."

The hunting bill is being welcomed by anti-hunt supporters, who say a ban on the sport is long overdue.

They have rejected the government bill for not going far enough as they want a complete ban on fox hunting.

But last week the leader of the House of Commons, Peter Hain, warned the bill may not reach the House of Lords before the summer recess if backbench amendments were adopted.

Manifesto commitment

Peter Anderson, from the League Against Cruel Sports in the South West, said he wanted a total ban.

But he added that the government needed to make sure the bill was not held up any further.

"The government needs to get on with this issue.

"We are hopeful the amendments will be passed on Monday and the government must then ensure the bill goes straight to the House of Lords.

"They have a manifesto commitment to resolve this and we really don't want to be going into the next election with the government not having honoured that commitment."

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