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Thursday, 28 February, 2002, 07:35 GMT
Hunt ban timetable to be outlined
Hunting could soon be back on the agenda
A vote on a total ban on hunting with dogs throughout England and Wales could be held in the Commons and Lords before Easter.

Leader of the Commons Robin Cook is expected to outline a timetable for the vote on Thursday.

It could mean a ban would be in place as early as 18 months' time.

Hunting could be the subject of a licensing system and a degree of openly accountable regulation

John Jackson
Countryside Alliance chairman

The Commons has voted twice to ban hunting since Labour came to power, but a ban was blocked by the Lords in the run-up to last year's election.

The move is being seen as an attempt to regain the initiative after a poor week for the government, dominated by the troubles of Transport Secretary Stephen Byers.

Tortuous process

MPs and peers are likely to be given "indicative" votes on three options - an outright ban, regulation of hunting or no change - in about two weeks' time.

The Commons is expected to vote for a ban, and the government is hoping that the Lords will vote for regulation, rather than for no change.

This would open the way for politicians to draw up a bill offering a compromise, which could be pushed through in the next session of Parliament.

Options on offer
Total ban
No change
Compromise: Regulation

BBC political correspondent Norman Smith says that if a compromise is not agreed, a tortuous legislative process will have to be undergone.

The government would have to use the Parliament Act, which allows it to push legislation which has been obstructed by the Lords.

This could involve a lengthy clash between the two Houses of Parliament, which could stop other legislation going through, and a possible showdown between the government and the countryside lobby.

Compromise possible

Scottish MSPs voted to outlaw the practice of hunting with dogs earlier this month.

Labour former minister Tony Banks, an ardent hunting opponent, told BBC News on Wednesday: "Right is on our side. The elected House is on our side. The majority of public opinion is on our side.

"What more do you need to have in a parliamentary democracy in order to triumph?"

John Jackson, chairman of the Countryside Alliance, indicated that pro-hunters might consider the compromise deal with licences issued by an independent body.

Welfare focus

"There is a strong body of opinion forming up behind the idea that hunting could be the subject of a licensing system and a degree of openly accountable regulation," he said.

Such a compromise is unlikely to satisfy many anti-hunting campaigners.

Mike Foster, the Labour MP who introduced his own bill to ban hunting in 1997, said he was confident the Commons would vote again for an outright ban.

There has been criticism of the legislation in Scotland, which faces legal challenges in the courts.

But Mr Foster told BBC Radio 4's Today programme it was not "beyond the wit of man" to draw up legislation which focused properly on the "suffering of animals".

The BBC's Carole Walker
"The Prime Minister is prepared to push through a ban in 18 months"
The BBC's Norman Smith
"This will not be a vote on a bit of legislation"
Ann Mallalieu, Labour
"I don't think that a ban will result from what is about to happen"
See also:

26 Feb 02 | England
Protest at hare coursing cup
14 Feb 02 | Scotland
Hunting ban 'breaches rights'
15 Feb 02 | Scotland
Fears for dogs after hunt ban
14 Feb 02 | Scotland
Pro-hunt battle moves to courts
13 Feb 02 | Scotland
Fox-hunting ban passed
13 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Labour MPs step up hunting call
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