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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 June, 2003, 11:59 GMT 12:59 UK
Hunting battle to resume
The government's bill would license hunts
The government has named the day for House of Commons debate on the final stages of its controversial hunting bill.

New Commons leader Peter Hain announced the bill's return for its report and third reading stage on 30 June.

The bill would allow fox hunting to continue under a strict system of licensing but would outlaw hare coursing and stag hunting.

Hunting is not a priority, but out-of-touch, dissident MPs remain obsessed by it
Simon Hart
Countryside Alliance
But some 150 MPs, led by Labour's Tony Banks, are preparing to table an amendment that would ban hunting.

Shadow Commons leader Eric Forth criticised the decision to have just one day's debate for the final stages of the bill.

But Mr Hain replied that the bill had already been subject to "detailed scrutiny".

The pro-hunting Countryside Alliance says the bill would discriminate against "a responsible and law-abiding minority".

It claims the time it will take to get the measure through both Houses of Parliament could be better used "on issues that voters are actually interested in".

Simpler measure

But the anti-hunting League Against Cruel Sports is optimistic that the MPs' amendment will be carried, sparking a potential parliamentary tussle when the bill reaches the House of Lords.

The government did promise that one of the issues it would address is hunting - and it ought to keep its promise
Mike Hobday
League Against Cruel Sports
Mr Hain said he was "sure that the Lords will not wish to block a manifesto commitment of this kind", hinting that if the Lords block the measure, the government may be forced to use the Parliament Act to ensure the bill becomes law.

Mike Hobday, head of public relations at the League Against Cruel Sports, said: "We are very pleased at Mr Hain's announcement that the bill will be returning to the Commons - it is long overdue.

"MPs have been voting for a ban on fox hunting since 1995 and we are very confident that they will continue to support a total ban of this cruel sport."

'Waste of time'

Meanwhile, an NOP poll, commissioned by the Countryside Alliance, suggested that only 2% of people questioned believed hunting should be a political priority.

The survey of 1001 respondents suggested that the government should give a higher priority to the NHS, asylum seekers, education and anti-social behaviour.

Simon Hart, director of the Countryside Alliance's Campaign for Hunting, said: "Hunting is not a priority, but out-of-touch, dissident MPs remain obsessed by it.

"Because of them, Parliament continues to waste time and resources on a discredited bill, when they could be spent on many more important issues."

'Political expediency'

He stressed: "This bill has been designed to discriminate against a responsible and law-abiding minority and will waste Parliamentary time which could have been used on issues that voters are actually interested in.

"For example, the government's proposed pension legislation which matters to every single family in the country.

"It is precisely this sort of political expediency which is tarnishing the government's reputation."

Mr Hobday agreed that banning hunting was not more important than the NHS or education.

But he said: "The government did promise that one of the issues it would address was hunting - and it ought to keep its promise."

Pest control

A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said the government had accepted there were "more important things" than hunting.

"But the government had a manifesto commitment to enable Parliament to resolve the issue once and for all - that is why this bill is before the House," she said.

"The bill is based on minimising cruelty, while recognising the need of landowners and wildlife managers to use pest control."

The bill has already had a second reading in the Commons and has been thoroughly gone through in its committee stage.

Question mark over hunting bill
08 May 03  |  Politics
Anti-hunt MPs push for total ban
04 Dec 02  |  Politics
Hunting compromise outlined
03 Dec 02  |  Politics
'Last' hunting season opens
01 Nov 02  |  England

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