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Wednesday, 20 June, 2001, 16:46 GMT 17:46 UK
Free vote promised on hunting
A huntsman and hounds
A free vote will be held on hunting
MPs will have a free vote on banning hunting with dogs, the Queen said as she outlined the government's new agenda.

A bill to ban hunting passed the Commons in the last parliament by 373 votes to 158 at its second reading, but was blocked in the Lords and was lost when the general election was called.

In that vote MPs were able to to choose in the vote whether they support an outright ban, compulsory regulation or voluntary self-regulation, but it is not yet clear whether that will happen again.

The free vote was promised in Labour's manifesto but the government has not said what form it would take or whether it would force the bill through the House of Lords.

Strong passions

A spokesman for the new Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), said: "Hunting is an issue that arouses strong passions among many people on both sides of the argument.

"It is rightly a free vote issue in both Houses of Parliament.

Tony Banks
Banks wants the bill to be forced through
"So in accordance with the government's commitment, the new parliament will be given the opportunity to express its view by a free vote.

"We will then enable parliament to reach a conclusion on this issue.

"If this issue continues to be blocked then we will look at how the disagreement can be resolved."

No bill promised

A DEFRA spokeswoman said the government was not saying what form the free vote would take.

And she refused to say whether or not the vote would be on a specific bill.

"It is important to take the temperature of the Commons again," she added.

The lack of a commitment to a government bill disappointed the National Anti-Hunt campaign, which gave a cautious welcome to the free vote.

The Countryside March in London
Moves to ban hunting could see another Countryside March
The campaign's Niel Hansen said: "There have been numerous free votes on hunting over the last decade or so but as they have been as the result of Private Members' Bills, they have all run out of parliamentary time."

John Jackson, chairman of the pro-hunt Countryside Alliance, said the government had told him it planned to consult before deciding on the form of a bill.

"If this process signals the government's sincere determination to try to find a just way forward which respects the freedoms and safeguards the livelihoods of rural people, the alliance will do what it can to help resolve the issue," he said.

The alliance has warned it will organise another march and rally through London in protest at any threat to foxhunting.

Lords battle

Anti-hunt MPs, led by Labour's Tony Banks, have pressed for the Parliament Act to be used to make the ban law if peers reject it.

There can be no compromise on cruelty

John Cooper
League Against Cruel Sports

There were complaints that the government did not give enough time to the hunting bill in the last parliament, especially as previous private members bills failed.

Public support

A poll for The Economist magazine last week suggested the public backed a hunting ban.

It found that of those people expressing an opinion, nearly two out of three favoured a ban.

John Cooper, chairman of the League Against Cruel Sports, said that showed the government was right to resolve the long-running issue.

And he warned that obstruction from the House of Lords would cause constitutional crisis.

"There can be no compromise on cruelty," he said. "It is time to end the barbarism of hunting foxes, deer, hare and mink for sport."

The Conservatives said it was "outrageous" that hunting is given greater priority than the recent countryside crises.

The Liberal Democrats too said it was disappointing that only the hunting pledge had come out of the fanfare surrounding the creating of DEFRA.

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See also:

15 Jun 01 | UK Politics
12 Jun 00 | UK Politics
09 May 01 | Vote2001
13 Mar 01 | UK Politics
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