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EDITIONS
Sunday, 3 March, 2002, 16:51 GMT
'Hunting compromise impossible'
Fox hunting
The government may try to strike a deal on the issue
There can be no compromise over a complete ban on hunting with dogs, former Sports Minister Tony Banks has said.

The Labour MP expects the government to try to forge a deal that stops short of an outright ban - but he told the BBC that was just unacceptable.

Both Houses of Parliament are to be given a free vote on 18 March to test opinion on the issue, Commons Leader Robin Cook announced last week.

Possible timetable
Thursday: Vote date announced
18 March: MPs given "indicative" votes
November: Bill proposed in Queen's Speech
Autumn 2003: Ban could be in place

MPs and peers will choose between three options - an outright ban, no change or legally-binding regulation of hunting.

With MPs expected to back a complete ban while members of the House of Lords are likely to favour better regulation, there is speculation the government will go for a compromise.

'Licensed killing'

Mr Banks told BBC One's Breakfast with Frost he expected Mr Cook and other ministers to support calls for better regulation, instead of a ban.

"The so-called Middle Way is licensed killing," said anti-hunt campaigner Mr Banks.

"It's no great consolation to a wild mammal that it is being ripped to pieces according to some form of latter-day Queensberry Rules.

Tony Banks, former Sports Minister
Banks says ministers want a compromise
"It is not acceptable and it will not be accepted by the House of Commons."

Mr Banks argued there could be no compromise and the only winners the majority of the public wanted were campaigners for a total ban.

He predicted no consensus would be found between MPs and peers when the "indicative" votes are held this month.

"It will be brought back to us and ministers will still try to say it is possible to get a deal here."

Shadow Commons leader Eric Forth last week suggested the hunting votes were being offered now as a reward for Labour MPs' support for embattled Transport Secretary Stephen Byers.

'Resolution'

That claim was rejected as "demeaning" and "cynical" by Mr Banks, who pointed to the long-term pressure that had been put on Prime Minister Tony Blair over the issue.

It was dismissed too by Mr Cook, who said it was too early to know how MPs would vote on the issue.

This month's votes would be followed by Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael bringing forward government proposals before Easter "to resolve the issue", said Mr Cook.

The Commons leader told BBC Radio 4's World This Weekend programme: "There will be legislation but I do not at this stage know whether it will be the same as last time. It might be, it might not."

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

Parliamentary wrangles

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 General Election.

If the same legislation is introduced again, the government would be able to use the Parliament Act to force it through the Lords if peers again reject it.

But it has yet to be seen if ministers would be willing to take that step, especially as John Jackson, chairman of the Countryside Alliance, has said hunters may accept a licensing system to head off a total ban.

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

But critics have pointed to loopholes in that legislation, which is to be challenged in the courts.

Background and analysis of one of the most contentious issues in British politics

Latest stories

The Scottish ban

Analysis

Background

TALKING POINT
See also:

28 Feb 02 | Scotland
26 Feb 02 | England
14 Feb 02 | Scotland
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