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Tuesday, 17 December, 2002, 00:19 GMT
Hunting vote sparks angry scenes
Police tackling the hunting demonstration
Eight people were arrested during the protest
The government's Hunting Bill cleared its first Commons hurdle amid angry scenes outside parliament during which eight pro-hunt campaigners were arrested.

While hunt supporters staged their noisy protest, in the Commons the proposals were attacked by MPs on both sides of the argument.

Many Labour MPs hope to amend the bill to an outright ban at a later stage, but in its present form it would ban some hunts but allow others to continue under licence.

I ask the Countryside Alliance and their supporters to show the respect for Parliament I have shown to them

Alun Michael
Up to 2,300 pro- and anti-hunt campaigners staged a demonstration, some holding flares, and many blowing whistles and horns.

There were reports of scuffles as some marchers tried to break through lines of police trying to keep them from other protesters. Mounted police were brought in to control the crowds.

The bill was given its second reading by 368 votes to 155, but there was scant support for the proposals.

Safety worries

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Andy Trotter from the Metropolitan Police said: "I'm thoroughly disappointed by totally unreasonable actions of a significant number of protesters gathered in Parliament Square.

A pro-hunt protester
Hunt protesters on both sides gathered in their hundreds
"Not only have they failed to keep to prior agreements with police, but they have shown pure recklessness by throwing fireworks in the area and even destroying part of a builder's hoarding designed to keep the public safe."

The government is proposing a ban on hare coursing and stag hunting, with hunting with dogs only allowed with special licences.

The bill raises the prospect of another stalemate if the Commons amends it to call for a total ban on hunting with dogs and such a move is opposed in the Lords.


Almost 200 MPs have signed a Commons motion saying only a total ban on hunting will be acceptable.

Those MPs held fire on Monday's votes. They want the bill to progress so they can change it at the committee stage and use it as a vehicle for an outright ban.

Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael denied his proposals were either a compromise or discriminatory.

He criticised Monday's protest as he opened the Commons debate, saying it showed the "tribal nature" of the hunting argument.

Alun Michael
Anti-hunt MPs say Alun Michael will be "piggy in the middle"
"In a free society, everyone has the right of peaceful protest.

"But I would remind the Countryside Alliance and their supporters that the process I have undertaken has involved them at every stage and has been every bit as open and transparent as they asked."

Richard Burge, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, said the trouble was "regrettable" but not their fault.

He told BBC News Online: "Mr Michael is trying to duck the responsibility for creating the sense of outrage and resentment that his own bill has given rise to."

Mr Burge was critical of the police conduct and has written to the Met Police Commissioner, Sir John Stevens, urging him to mount an investigation.

Liberties 'stolen'

Senior Labour MP Gerald Kaufman was among those on the back benches pressing for nothing short of a total ban.

Labour MPs are being promised a free vote but Mr Kaufman said it would "arouse outrage in the Labour movement" if ministers voted against a blanket hunt ban.

The Conservatives argue the government plans would "rob" people of their liberty while doing nothing to help animal welfare.


The Countryside Alliance has warned there could be a "serious amount of trouble" if the bill goes ahead.

The anti-hunt campaigners are not satisfied either, calling the proposed registration system a "bureaucratic nightmare".

The Campaign for the Protection of Hunted Animals (CPHA) believes more than 90% of hunts could potentially be allowed to carry on if the bill became law unamended.

Meanwhile, the Middle Way group, which is campaigning for a compromise solution, says attempts at a complete ban in Scotland are already proving ineffective.

The BBC's Vicky Young
"This bill will allow fox hunting to go ahead in some areas"
Background and analysis of one of the most contentious issues in British politics

Latest stories

The Scottish ban



See also:

20 Sep 02 | UK
04 Dec 02 | Politics
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