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Wednesday, 16 January, 2002, 14:04 GMT
Fox hunt campaign stepped up
Members of the Derwent hunt
MPs are trying to put hunting on Parliament's agenda
Anti-hunting MPs are stepping up pressure on the government to restart efforts to ban the sport.

Campaigners against hunting say 412 MPs support a ban and are urging ministers to take quick action on the issue.


It's not good enough to keep promising that we will deal with the issue and then never providing sufficient time

Tony Banks
Anti-hunting MP
A bill including the option of a total ban was introduced in the last Parliament but ran out of time.

Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe, one of the most vocal anti-hunting MPs, accused ministers of being "cynical and cowardly" on the issue.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Miss Widdecombe said: "I think the government is nervous about a ban and that's really what today is all about."

Challenge to ministers

The Tory MP accused ministers of "shilly-shallying" after the 1997 election and of only introducing a hunting bill when it was too late for it to pass through Parliament.

The former shadow home secretary, who in the Commons is at odds with most of her own party on the issue, laid down a challenge for the government.

"If it is honest about wanting to see this issue resolved then it will bring forward an opportunity early in this Parliament," she said.

Ann Widdecombe
Widdecombe says the issue must be resolved
Later, Miss Widdecombe joined senior figures from the other political parties at a press conference in Parliament.

She told reporters: "Fox hunting is not an exercise in pest control, it's an excuse for a good ride. There are plenty of other ways in which you can get a good ride."

Former Labour Sports Minister Tony Banks was another MP who backed the launch of a new pressure campaign organised by a group including the RSPCA, the League Against Cruel Sports and the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Mr Banks said there was growing cynicism among his fellow Labour MPs about the government's attitude to a ban.

'Sick'

"It's not good enough to keep promising people that we will deal with the issue and then never providing sufficient time to deal with it."

He said anyone enjoying killing animals was "sick" - whether they be members of the Royal Family or "thugs from the East End".

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Norman Baker also called for action against hunting.

Sir Paul McCartney
Paul McCartney is among celebrities backing new campaign
Mr Baker said it was now time to end what was an "archaic throwback to a bygone era ... and is an embarrassment to this country when looked at from abroad".

A host of celebrities, including Sir Paul McCartney, One Foot In The Grave star Richard Wilson and astronomer Sir Patrick Moore are supporting the latest campaign.

The bill that went before Parliament last year contained three options: an outright ban, self-regulation and the "middle way" of stricter regulation.

Labour peer Baroness Mallalieu, president of the pro-hunting Countryside Alliance, said she thought the government had its "finger on the pulse" of public opinion by putting other priorities first.

'No priority'

But she was confident ministers would at some stage allow both Houses of Parliament to express their views.

"I would like to see at some point a resolution of this because I think we are all sick of these bruising arguments which do not actually do any good," Lady Mallalieu told Today.

The current debate divided people and diverted resources from more important animal welfare measures, she argued.

Public confidence was needed for hunting to continue, added the peer.

Last month, 225 Labour MPs called for an "early decision" on hunting.

That followed suggestions that the extra legislation needed in the wake of the 11 September attacks in America could delay the introduction of a new bill.

But Commons Leader Robin Cook denied any decision had been taken to drop the plans.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Ann Widdecombe former shadow home secretary
"I think the government is nervous"
Background and analysis of one of the most contentious issues in British politics

Latest stories

The Scottish ban

Analysis

Background

TALKING POINT
See also:

31 Oct 01 | UK Politics
03 Nov 01 | UK
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