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Monday, 15 January, 2001, 15:31 GMT
Hunting for victory
Hilary Chasteauneuf with lurcher Sweet at the vigil
Hilary Chasteauneuf with lurcher Sweet at the vigil
By BBC News Online's Chris Hamilton

They're miles from home, the weather is bitterly cold and a few feet away traffic roars by - but for the pro-hunt campaigners their vigil is worth such discomforts.

As Janet Young, a farm worker's wife from near Swindon in Wiltshire, told BBC News Online: "None of that matters."

"Nothing is more important to me than saving my way of life. I'll stay here for as long as it takes."

We want to show the government that we are determined to save our way of life

Janet Young
In fact the plan is for up to a dozen protesters to maintain a presence in Parliament Square round the clock until Wednesday night's vote in the Commons.

They are inviting MPs, peers and members of the public to come and discuss what they call the "real" issues around hunting.

Armed with placards, banners and leaflets, the hunt supporters want to spread their message loud and clear: a vote to ban hunting is a vote for intolerance and prejudice.

It is hammered home to passers-by with slogans including: "Do our politicians think foxes are more important than people? Time for Parliament to get real."

Another banner, quoting Winston Churchill and overlooked by a statue of the former prime minister, reads: "Never underestimate a minority."

Beaufort hunt
Restrictions of some sort on hunting with dogs are likely
The "balanced" approach between animal welfare and human rights, the hunt supporters insist, is statutory supervision - one of the three options MPs will be voting on.

Mrs Young, 49, outlined the aim of the vigil: "We want to show the government that we are determined to save our way of life.

"I believe hunting is done by all sorts of people, from the privileged to the working class.

"Our message to Tony Blair is don't condemn workers to the dole queue and hounds to the knacker's yard without first going on a hunt and making a real effort to understand the way of life."

Blair's vote

The prime minister's spokesman said last week that Mr Blair would be voting for a ban - if he is free to go to the Commons on Wednesday. On Monday, the spokesman said the prime minister's "intention" was to be there.

The vigil is organised on a rota system to ensure the small camp is occupied 24 hours a day.

A Land Rover and horse box were used to transport supplies including a gas stove and food.

A few bales of hay, a portable heater and a large tent were brought along to keep the icy January winds at bay.

Winnie the pig
Winnie the pig at an earlier farmers protest
Hilary Chasteauneuf, 35, a whipper-in for the Hampshire Minkhounds and a hunter of 15 years' standing, said her verdict on Mr Blair's stance would be "unprintable".

"It just seems very, very ironic that a government that promised us a free and tolerant society is now coming down trying to stop people in the countryside from carrying on the rural traditions."

She pledged they would "do anything" to save hunting.

Vigil veteran

Gloucestershire farmer Charles Mann, 50, is a veteran of several countryside and hunt protests.

He joined Winnie the pig at the same spot in Parliament Square during a three-month long demonstration by farmers last year.

There is no livestock to help publicise the cause this time but that does not make them any less determined, Mr Mann said.

"What we're trying to do is get the message through that somehow prejudice is what is driving a lot of MPs, prejudice against something they don't understand."

He said making hunting an election issue would be a "tragedy".

"Here we have got a Labour government in the 21st century with a manifesto saying they are going to worry about the NHS, police, housing and fox hunting.

"I mean it's a crazy priority isn't it?"

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See also:

11 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Bragg battles for hunting reprieve
21 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Hunting Bill clears Commons hurdle
21 Nov 00 | Scotland
Clashes over hunt ban bill
28 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Fox hunting season opens
26 Jun 00 | Scotland
Hunting report under fire
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