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Thursday, 14 November, 2002, 15:26 GMT
Ban hunting, MPs urge
A fox during a hunt
'No case for a ban', says Countryside Alliance
The government is under pressure to introduce a total ban on hunting following a demand by more than 160 MPs.

The cross-party group has taken heart from the Queen's Speech which announced legislation will enable Parliament to "reach a conclusion" on the thorny issue of hunting with dogs.

I think we are not out of the woods yet

Norman Baker
They have signed an early day motion welcoming the move, stressing their continued determination that a total ban on hunting with dogs should be secured via a free vote.

But the Countryside Alliance described the Queen's Speech announcement as "unclear" and urged the government to "keep its word" and make proposals that are "fair" and based on "principle and evidence".

Tory former minister Ann Widdecombe, Labour ex-minister Tony Banks and senior Lib Dems MP Norman Baker are among the chief signatories opposed to hunting.

'Compromise' fears

They hope the issue will be finalised "once and for all".

But Mr Baker warned that while he is hopeful for a ban, he fears that a compromise deal is more likely with some hunts being able to continue if they can prove it is the most effective way of killing foxes.

This is despite a majority of MPs voting in the House of Commons in support of an outright ban.

Mr Baker stressed: "I think we are not out of the woods yet.

Norman Baker
The democratic view of MPs should be respected, says Mr Baker
"I think we are going to get to a situation where it may be substantially banned.

"But I'm concerned that we will reach a position where hunts are allowed to make appeals in the country on the grounds of utility which will lead to a patchwork situation where it is banned in some places and not in others.

"What people outside who are for hunting have to address is the majority will of the House of Commons - on a free vote, on more than one occasion and across parties, MPs have voted to ban it outright.

"Irrespective of one's views on hunting, that democratic view ought to be respected."

'Morally wrong'

Mr Baker said he believed the government had "strung out" the issue for too long.

"It is occupying far too much parliamentary time. It should have been sorted out in 1997/98," he added.

Douglas Batchelor, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, argued that there should be "no compromise" on a hunting ban.

Liberty and Livelihood march
Thousands marched on London to show their opposition to a hunting ban.
"We are looking for legislation that clearly bans all forms of fox hunting," he said.

"Whether in the lowland shires, the fells of Cumbria or the forests of Wales, it is cruel and unnecessary to use dogs to chase or kill a wild animal.

"It is morally wrong to cause suffering to an animal either by design or neglect.

"It is morally wrong to take pleasure in causing suffering.

"There should be no compromise on the moral values that we share."

'Keep your word'

But John Jackson, chairman of the Countryside Alliance, said: "The Alliance looks forward to seeing the actual shape of the forthcoming legislation, which yesterday's announcement leaves unclear.

"We expect the government to keep its word and make proposals which are fair and based on principle and evidence.

"Any departure from this would result in resistance, not only by rural people, but by all who value social justice."

Earlier this year Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael took evidence from all sides of the hunting debate to help him bring forward plans which can deliver on Labour's manifesto pledge to allow Parliament to "reach a resolution".

The hearings at Westminster saw Mr Michael take evidence from pro- and anti-hunt campaigners, as well as those who want legal regulation of the practice instead of a ban.


The Queen's Speech promised a bill would be introduced "based on evidence and principle" once consideration of all the evidence has been concluded.

The Middle Way Group, which supports licensed hunting, said: "The words of the Queen's Speech are important because they recognise that no simple solution exists.

"Whilst some MPs are firm in their belief that a total hunting with dogs ban must be enacted, it has proven to be exceedingly difficult to draft legislation which would bring this about."

A spokesman added: "It is up to the Middle Way Group, and the other organisations engaged in this debate, to continue to put forward their cases and trust that, at last, Parliament will truly consider the arguments."

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

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See also:

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