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Monday, 9 September, 2002, 18:27 GMT 19:27 UK
Hunting debate begins far from countryside
Supporters say hunting keeps foxes under control
Campaigners for and against hunting have begun giving evidence at a three-day public hearing to debate the future of the pursuit.

The consultation, which is being chaired by Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael, began on Monday in Westminster.


The government has made their mind up and I don't think they will listen to us

Peter Collins
Huntsman
The hearing is part of six months of consultation to find common ground between the opposing sides as a basis for future legislation.

Sections of the pro-hunting lobby believe the process is a waste of time because the government has "already made up its mind".

But Mr Michael said no decisions had yet been made.

'Intelligent discussion'

Mr Michael told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the three main campaigning organisations had agreed a list of topics for the hearings.

Alun Michael
The consultation is 'open and transparent', says Mr Michael
He said: "We are going to have an intelligent discussion, which surely in a democracy, is the right way to prepare the ground for legislation?

"I shall not make up my mind on the proposals to be brought forward to Parliament until we have heard these discussions over the next three days."

The hearing opened with evidence from Lord Burns, the former civil servant who led a government-commissioned inquiry into the effects of a hunting ban.

Lord Burns outlined the difficulties of finding hard evidence in the hunting debate.

He said: "There is always a range of uncertainties about whatever it is you are doing.

"There is a range of uncertainty about what the implications for jobs might be, a range of uncertainty about what the social implications would be and a lot of uncertainty about some of the animal welfare implications."

'Last chance'

Earlier this year the House of Commons voted for an outright ban on hunting, while the House of Lords voted for hunting to continue under licence.

Huntsman Peter Collins, from the prestigious Quorn Hunt, said the outcome of the consultation was a foregone conclusion.

He told the Today programme: "I don't know why they are having this three days consultation period when they have got a report already to look at.

"The government has made their mind up and I don't think they will listen to us."

'Over-stated case'

Douglas Batchelor, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, also questioned the need for the Westminster talks.

"There is no compromise to be reached through these hearings," he said.

"We are confident that any new evidence will back up what is already an overwhelming moral and scientific case against hunting with dogs.

"There should be no more delays or fudges. A ban on hunting with dogs is the only acceptable outcome from this consultation process."

Fighting talk

But hunt supporter, the Duke of Devonshire, who is the biggest landowner in Derbyshire, said he would defy a ban.

"It might lead me to prison - I shall join Lord Archer," he told Today.

"I think people should be entitled to hunt if they want to hunt.

"I think it is wrong legislation to ban it ... If people wish to come and hunt on my land, I would allow them."

Evidence to the inquiry is being considered by the Countryside Alliance, the Middle Way Group and the Campaigning to Protect Hunted Animals.

On Tuesday the focus will be on scientists giving their views on suffering hunting causes animals.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Naomi Grimley
"Lobby groups have come to Westminster to give evidence"
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