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Friday, 8 December, 2000, 12:27 GMT
Hunting bill unveiled
Foxhunting
A ban would prompt the end of scenes like this
A controversial bill that could outlaw foxhunting has been unveiled by the government.

Home Office Minister Mike O'Brien said the Hunting Bill would give MPs the chance to have a free vote on the issue of hunting with dogs.

MPs will be given three options: an outright ban on foxhunting, a compulsory licensing system or self-regulation for hunts.

If MPs vote in favour of a ban the House of Lords will still have the opportunity to debate all the options when the bill reaches the upper house.

The government's official position on the issue is one of neutrality, although Labour MPs, who are in the majority in the Commons, are widely expected to back a total ban.

"This is an important and controversial issue as has been evidenced by the space given to it in the newspapers and by the amount of correspondence we get here on it," Mr O'Brien said.

Previous attempts to bring about a ban on foxhunting have failed because they have run out time.

Contentious issue

Mr O'Brien said: "Lots of attempts have been made to deal with hunting by way of private members' bills but all have failed."

"The intention in bringing forward a government bill was to allow the opportunity for parliament to "deal with the contentious issue in a clear and straightforward way" he said.

MPs will have the chance to debate the bill before the Christmas recess as its second reading is due to take place on 18 December.

Labour's 1997 manifesto included a pledge to have a free vote on the issue of hunting with dogs but any move to outlaw the practice is expected to meet with widespread opposition.

The Countryside Alliance have already indicated that they intend to stage a mass rally in March and the House of Lords is expected to resist a ban.

But Douglas Batchelor, the chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports welcomed the fact that this bill would get parliamentary time.

'Historic' opportunity

He said: "This is an historic opportunity to finally end this cruel and barbaric practice which has no place in a modern society."

Home Secretary Jack Straw acknowledged that hunting aroused "strong views on all sides of the argument".

"I believe that this bill should allow the issue of hunting properly to be resolved," he argued.

But the Hunting Bill drew short shrift from Conservative home affairs spokesman David Lidington who said it was an example of the government's "warped sense of priorities".

"I have never played a part in hunting and have no wish to do so," he said.

"However, it is wrong to criminalise the many thousands of decent law-abiding citizens who take part.

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See also:

07 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Hunting a second term
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Foxhunting debate in days
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Countryside to march again?
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The Queen's speech
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