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Wednesday, 31 October, 2001, 13:12 GMT
MPs urge action on hunting ban
A fox hunting scene
Hunting remains a controversial issue
More than 200 MPs have signed a Commons motion urging the government to introduce legislation to ban hunting at the "earliest possible opportunity".

The call follows speculation that a bill to outlaw fox hunting is now on the backburner in the wake of the US terror attacks.


They cannot carry on defying the majority will of the House of Commons and they cannot ignore a manifesto undertaking

Tony Banks
Leader of the Commons Robin Cook last week said bills to tackle terrorism must take precedence over MPs' time.

Measures in the wake of foot-and-mouth and the collapse of Railtrack were other key priorities, but Mr Cook said no decision had been taken to drop a fox hunting bill.

And on Wednesday a spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair said that the government had already set out the legislative programme for the session.

"Obviously other Bills will be brought into the session as a result of 11 September," he said.

"Any changes that will be made to the legislative timetable will be announced at the appropriate time."

In the parliamentary petition, MPs from all parties congratulate the Scottish Parliament on taking the first steps towards banning hunting.

Reminder

It "reminds" ministers of the "overwhelming support for abolition" among MPs and voters' "high expectation" the government will honour its manifesto pledge to allow the issue to be brought to a "conclusion" for England and Wales.

Former shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe is one of the leading sponsors of the motion, but most of the signatories are Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs.

Downing Street said on Wednesday it would set out at a later date how the legislative programme would be affected by the need to bring in anti-terror measures.

Former Labour Sports Minister Tony Banks, who organised the petition, last week argued there was enough time to introduce the bill.

He suggested certain senior cabinet ministers who had never favoured a hunting ban were holding sway on the issue.

'Defying majority'

Mr Banks told BBC Radio 4's World At One on Friday: "The fact is they cannot carry on defying the majority will of the House of Commons and they cannot ignore a manifesto undertaking.

"So I really am expecting a bit more spine in terms of rather greater political will on the part of government."

Lembit Opik, the Liberal Democrat MP spearheading the campaign for a compromise of better regulated hunting, said the public were increasingly supporting his Middle Way Group.

Robin Cook, Leader of the Commons
Cook: No decision has been made
He disagreed with Mr Banks, saying: "I don't think it's the individual will of cabinet ministers that is delaying this.

"Aside from the obvious difficulties with the current international situation, it does seem to me that the government now realises that this is much more complicated then they at first thought."

Anti-terror priority

Briefing reporters on Thursday, Mr Cook said three bills covering anti-terror measures, extradition and asylum were being considered as priorities.

He said: "We will obviously keep under review the present programme, as announced, to make sure we can carry through as much of that as we can, but renewed pressures may well have consequences."

Campaigners for a ban on hunting with dogs were hoping for a timetable that would include a bill similar to the one the House of Lords rejected before the general election.

That would raise the chances of the government being able to invoke the Parliament Act if the Lords had overridden the wishes of the Commons again.

'Matter of trust'

The Campaign for the Protection of Hunted Animals, an alliance of groups that includes the RSPCA, said the government must reintroduce proposals for a ban within 12 months.

"This is a matter of trust between the government and the people who elected them," it said in a joint statement.

Later on Thursday Mr Cook issued a statement in which he maintained he had made it "perfectly clear" no decision had been taken on the legislative programme.

"To remove all doubt, I repeat that no decision has been taken to drop legislation on fox hunting or any other matter," he added.

See also:

26 Oct 01 | Scotland
Legal hurdle to hunting ban bill
19 Sep 01 | Scotland
Vote supports hunting ban
15 Jun 01 | UK Politics
Public back hunt ban, suggests poll
26 Sep 01 | Liberal Democrats
Call for hunting to be regulated
03 Aug 99 | UK Politics
Campaigners dismiss hunt compromise
25 Oct 01 | England
Government accused over hunting
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