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Tuesday, 19 March, 2002, 15:02 GMT
Lords hunting their prey
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By Mark Davies
BBC News Online political reporter
It is a grotesque charade held on a regular basis, an obscene and out-dated custom scorned by millions around the country.

They turn up in full regalia, huffing and puffing, hip flasks no doubt at the ready, for another day of hurly burly.

Chauffeurs drop them off, passers-by stop and stare as they prepare to do battle.

In the middle of it all, bizarrely, there was a demonstration pressing for independence for the Isle of Wight

When the rest of the country is worrying about schools, hospitals and rail services, they continue their pursuit of an elusive prey.

Yes, parliament is knee-deep in the debate over hunting with dogs yet again.

The prey? Some sort of resolution, once and for all, to this seemingly endless debate.

Another vote in the House of Lords on Tuesday will help indicate how the government may proceed on an issue which has plagued Tony Blair's government.

Outside the House of Lords on Tuesday, a few protesters from both sides had gathered as peers began the debate.

A man wearing a jacket covered in pro-hunting campaign badges glowered at the anti-hunting demonstrators on the other side of the road.

Country ways

The animal rights campaigners exchanged sidelong, suspicious glances with their opponents.

And in the middle of it all, bizarrely, there was a demonstration pressing for independence for the Isle of Wight.

In the Lords chamber, there was talk of the middle way, of grinning foxes and of country ways.

Of traditional ways of life, of pest control, cruelty and of what is the best way for a fox to meet his maker - death at the hands of a pack of dogs or by bullet?

Through it all was the overwhelming feeling that we've been here before, which, of course, we have, several times.

In fact, what can be said which hasn't been said time after time before?

Gentle stroll

Well, the Lords managed to find a few things, though at lunchtime, the red benches were hardly packed.

Nor would it be fair to say that the debate was conducted at fever pitch. More like a gentle stroll through familiar terrain.

By the end of the week, the demonstrators outside parliament will have a good idea as to which side has triumphed this time round.

Tony Blair has so far failed to find a way to kill off a debate which has provided an "unnecessary distraction".

This time one can only hope that some kind of conclusion can be reached.

Then at least the rest of the country - because one suspects the vast majority of people have other things on their minds - will be able to return to rather more pressing issues.

The BBC's Richard Bilton
"Hunting was stopped by foot and mouth"
Tony Holdsworth, Beaufort Hunt
"I hope and pray foot-and-mouth doesn't come back"
See also:

12 Dec 01 | Scotland
Safety warning for hunt ban MSPs
03 Nov 01 | UK
Fox hunters seek end to ban
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