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Monday, November 30, 1998 Published at 15:50 GMT

UK Politics

Stars back hunt ban campaign

Hunting with hounds will die a death if the campaign succeeds

A host of stars have backed a new campaign aimed at winning a government promise to outlaw fox hunting by the new millennium.

Sir Paul McCartney, Sir John Gielgud and Richard Wilson are among the celebrities supporting the Campaign for the Protection of Hunted Animals.

Before the election, the government pledged a free vote in the Commons on fox hunting.

[ image: A huntsman's beagle attacks a deer]
A huntsman's beagle attacks a deer
Now three animal organisations - the RSPCA, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the League Against Cruel Sports - have joined forces to call for the government to go further and make a commitment to bringing in a ban by the year 2000.

Michael Foster MP, whose bill bringing in such a ban was blocked by opponents a year ago, despite having huge Commons support, is also backing the latest campaign - called Deadline 2000.

Mr Foster told BBC News Online his bill was still a workable piece of law that could be passed if there was the will.

"We know the Home Office were involved in suggesting amendments, so they have seen it and they've let it go through, so one assumes it's a worthy piece of legislation.

"We will continue to meet with ministers to discuss options and to see how Parliament can be used to get the bill through because it's clear public opinion is in our favour."

Deadline 2000 is also backed by shadow minister Ann Widdecombe and Liberal Democrat MP Jackie Ballard.

Lords reform first

Bob Worcester, of pollsters Mori detailed figures showing seven out of 10 Britons favour a ban - and even in rural areas, a ban would have the support of 64%.

The Queen's Speech
Mr Worcester said even the Countryside Rally of 1997 failed to change opinions.

The new tactics of anti-hunt campaigners follow the absence of a bill on fox hunting in last week's Queen's speech.

Mike Baker of IFAW said: "Last week the government made very clear they see House of Lords reform as a pre-requisite to any ban on hunting.

[ image: Campaigners also want an end to hare coursing]
Campaigners also want an end to hare coursing
"We're saying: 'Fine, we've got this next year in which to campaign and show that we really can win this campaign and that in a year's time when reform of the Lords is through, the way will be clear for a ban on hunting.'"

He said the charities could not tell what would happen in parliament if Lords reform was not so swift, but that Lords could not stay in the way of the overwhelming will of the British people for ever.

The charities also want to develop land where hunting is banned as well as working with local authorities and promoting alternatives such as drag hunting.

Comedy writer Carla Lane, who also supports the new campaign, told BBC News Online about the implications of Mr Foster's bill being blocked.

She said: "You're inflicted with this terrible sense of hopelessness - it stops you sleeping or doing normal things of life. It's depressing to know that a few people who are so wrong can overcome hundreds or thousands who are so right.

"For me, the issue is simple - it's cruel and injust."

Some 125 MPs have signed an Early Day Motion calling for a ban as soon as possible.

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