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Last Updated: Saturday, 1 November, 2003, 14:45 GMT
Thousands sign hunt pledge
Hunt supporters sign pledge
Thousands signed the civil disobedience pledge
About 7,000 people from across the South West attended a rally in Devon promising to break the law to beat a ban on fox hunting.

Members from 40 hunt and beagle packs from across the region were at the event at Honiton show ground, as well as representatives from other country pursuits.

Countryside Alliance spokesman Alison Hawes said 4,200 people signed a pledge at the gathering to support a campaign of civil disobedience against any government plans to outlaw the sport.

The League Against Cruel Sports said anyone who signed the pledge showed they completed disregarded the law.

THE HUNTING BILL
Proposes a wholesale ban on hunting with dogs in England and Wales
Failed to get through Lords last week
Could be re-introduced when the Commons returns later in November
If the Lords block it again, MPs could use the Parliament Act to force it through
Could then become law by autumn of next year

The Honiton meeting was one of 11 rallies held around England and Wales on the first day of the new hunting season.

It comes just days after the Hunting Bill was blocked in the House of Lords after it ran out of debate time.

The bill, as originally drafted, allowed regulated licensed fox hunting, but banned stag hunting and hare coursing.

This was overturned in June when mostly Labour backbench MPs voted to outlaw the sport.

But the government has hinted it might use the Parliament Act to force the legislation onto the statute books.

As many as 37,000 supporters at the 11 rallies have signed up to the civil disobedience pledge, according to organisers of the rallies, the Countryside Alliance (CA) and the Council of Hunting Associations.

Cotley Hunt member Paula Wyatt from Somerset, who was at the Honiton gathering, said: "I am a farmer's wife, and hunting is an integral part of our life.

"I feel so strongly I am happy to break the law."

The joint secretary of the Devon and Somerset stag hounds, Anne Hosegood, said: "If stag hunting is stopped, Exmoor will come to a grinding halt."

However, South West League Against Cruel Sports spokesman Peter Anderson has said the government should reintroduce a hunting bill in the next Parliamentary session.

He said: "The government has a manifesto pledge to resolve the issue."

He said those who signed the declaration were showing "a complete disregard for the rule of law and the democratic process".




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