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EDITIONS
Sunday, 17 March, 2002, 16:24 GMT
Blunkett backs hunting compromise
Fox hunting
MPs vote on Monday on whether to ban hunting
Home Secretary David Blunkett has backed the "middle way" option of a licensed system of fox hunting - as MPs and peers prepare to debate once again plans to ban the activity.

Speaking on BBC One's Breakfast with Frost he said he wanted to see compromise so that arguments about a ban did not "displace other essential pieces of legislation".

Possible timetable
18 March: MPs given "indicative" votes
Before Easter: ministers' proposals
November: Bill proposed in Queen's Speech
Autumn 2003: Ban could be in place
He said: "What we want is a humane system of ensuring that we're not over-run by foxes but that we don't treat them and ourselves in a barbaric fashion."

MPs, who have already voted for a ban twice, are expected to back a ban again during the "indicative" vote on Monday.

On Tuesday the House of Lords, expected to back the compromise option of tighter regulation, is sitting earlier than normal because of the growing list of peers who want to speak on the issue.

The suggestion is that unless a compromise is agreed there will be a battle between the two houses of parliament which would take up vast chunks of the government's timetable.

The government says the free votes are to indicate where opinion lies so ministers can produce plans before Easter to "resolve the issue".

There has been speculation the government might want to try to secure a compromise deal to avoid a battle between MPs and Lords eating into vast chunks of the government's timetable.

'A way forward'

In an interview for the BBC News 24's One-to-One programme, Baroness Mallalieu, president of the pro-hunt Countryside Alliance, gave signals the hunt supporters were willing to accept more regulation.

The Labour peer explained she had already helped to set up an "independent" body to supervise hunting and argued that measure was working well.

But with the two positions entrenched, there had to be "some movement" to get the long-disputed issue off the mainstream political agenda.

"The movement, so far as I am concerned, is that I think we should be prepared to accept there is a role for government," said Lady Mallalieu.

"I don't like regulation, I'm bound to say, but I think that a supervisorial body that has statutory force is the way forward."

Lady Mallalieu argued the issue had taken up too much parliamentary time.

"It's very divisive, it's an unpleasant debate, it splits villages, it splits families, it splits whole communities," she added.

Heavy post bags

Mike Hobday, from the anti-hunt League Against Cruel Sports, was confident MPs would be "absolutely solidly" in favour of a ban.

Mr Hobday believed it was "inevitable" the Lords would vote against a ban but argued the Commons was more important from a "democratic point of view".

That campaign will continue after next week's "indicative" votes, he told BBC News Online.

"MPs already have heavy mail boxes about this and we will make sure that will continue - it's not just for the vote," said Mr Hobday.

Legislation wrangle

That would include urging MPs to tell the government that indicative votes were not enough, he said.

MPs voted for a ban when a hunting bill went before Parliament last year. That legislation was dropped when the general election was called.

Anti-hunt campaigners now want exactly the same bill to be reintroduced.

That would mean the government could use the Parliament Act to force the bill through the Lords this year.

Whether ministers want to use that measure to break a potential parliamentary clash of wills has yet to be seen.

The full interview with Lady Mallalieu can be seen on BBC News 24's One to One programme on Sunday at 2145 GMT.

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

Latest stories

The Scottish ban

Analysis

Background

TALKING POINT
See also:

03 Mar 02 | UK Politics
16 Mar 02 | UK Politics
28 Feb 02 | Scotland
26 Feb 02 | England
14 Feb 02 | Scotland
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