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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 3 December, 2002, 22:16 GMT
Hunting compromise outlined
hunt
A mixed reception over compromise plans
Hunting with dogs would be banned in some areas of England and Wales but allowed to continue under licence in others under long-awaited government plans.

Unveiling the proposals, Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael recommended a complete ban on stag hunting and hare coursing.

Mr Michael said that whether hunting with dogs was allowed in other cases would be judged on a case-by-case basis by an independent registrar.


Where an activity has no utility and involves cruelty, it will not be allowed to continue

Alun Michael
To continue, hunts would have to meet the twin tests of preventing cruelty but recognising some hunting was needed for pest control, he said.

"Where an activity has no utility and involves cruelty, it will not be allowed to continue," Mr Michael continued.

Under the new regulation system, people would be able to appeal to an independent tribunal.

MPs have previously voted for an outright hunting ban but House of Lords opposition meant that move ran out of parliamentary time.

Now the government wants to deliver on its manifesto pledge to conclude the hunting debate that has raged since Labour came to power in 1997.

Mr Michael has previously said the will of MPs would prevail.

But Downing Street said it hoped the bill would help avoid a confrontation with the Lords which meant the Parliament Act was needed to force through the MPs' wishes.

'Bureaucratic nightmare'

That idea has already been greeted with some scepticism on both sides.

The proposals have already been attacked by pro-hunting Conservative peers as "a bill to ban hunting".

Baroness Byford warned they would "impact" on other parts of the government's legislative programme.

Umbrella group Campaigning to Protect Hunted Animals (CPHA) said it would also step up its efforts for an outright ban.

CPHA chairman Douglas Batchelor said: "Our three organisations will not accept any attempt at compromise that amounts to licensed cruelty.

Tony Banks
Labour MPs like Tony Banks look set to push for a complete ban
"Licensing by a tribunal will open up a bureaucratic nightmare that will continue the controversy over fox hunting indefinitely."

John Jackson, chairman of the pro-hunting Countryside Alliance, said his organisation would look "constructively" at the details of the licensing system.

But he added: "The Alliance rejects entirely the Bill's proposed ban on stag hunting and coursing, especially given that the government has provided no rational grounds for singling out these activities."

Labour MP Tony Banks said it was now in the hands of backbenchers to try to change the bill, which has yet to be published, to ensure there was a total ban.

The compromise would give licences only to those hunts which could prove the need to protect livestock from pests and where there was "no less cruel method" available.

Hunts in upland areas, where alternatives such shooting may be a less viable option, would be the most likely to survive.

Ratting and rabbiting will be allowed to continue unhindered, as will falconry.

Anybody defying a hunting ban could face a 5,000 fine, but Mr Michael said there were no plans for jail sentences.

Nor was compensation proposed for anybody losing work through the measures.

'Fair and reasonable'

Mr Michael also stressed there was no intention to restrict other pursuits, such as fishing and shooting.

The government says the proposals are "balanced, fair and reasonable" and Mr Michael hoped the plans would "stand the test of time".

Alun Michael
Alun Michael was warned he could become "piggy in the middle"
They were based on principle and evidence, not prejudice on either side, he told MPs.

Last month more than 160 MPs from a cross-party group signed an early day motion demanding a total ban on hunting, secured with a free vote.

'Wrong priorities'

Conservative shadow environment secretary David Lidington said the plans would impose "major restrictions on individual liberties".

Mr Lidington questioned whether it was a sensible priority for "hard-pressed and overstretched" police to have to deal with anybody defying new hunting rules.

Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Opik, who has spearheaded the Middle Way Group's drive for a compromise, said regulation could achieve a balance between animal welfare and civil liberties.

Scotland had tried and failed to impose an effective ban, he argued.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Mark Mardell
"The government hopes it can persuade pro-hunters that licensing is their only hope"
Alun Michael, Rural Affairs Minister
"This is not the middle way option"
Background and analysis of one of the most contentious issues in British politics

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The Scottish ban

Analysis

Background

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