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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 July, 2003, 06:43 GMT 07:43 UK
MPs back hunting ban
A giant paper mache fox is driven past Big Ben by the anti-hunting lobby
Both sides protested in Westminster
MPs have voted for an outright ban on hunting with dogs after five hours of intense Commons debate.

With a huge majority of 208, MPs backed a backbench amendment to the controversial Hunting Bill by 362 to 154.

The vote sets up another bruising battle with the House of Lords, which has opposed a hunting ban since Labour began its attempts to limit the blood sport in 1997.

But the vote would never have happened had the government pressed its own changes to the bill to a vote and won.

Instead ministers dramatically decided at the end of the debate to withdraw their own amendment.

HAVE YOUR SAY
It appears the prime minister simply ran out of steam in opposing his backbenchers' demands for the end of the blood sport
Nick Assinder
Political correspondent

Officials say they realised during the day that MPs risked not getting the vote they had been promised on the outright ban proposal. The government motion was thus withdrawn as an "act of good faith".

Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael still urged MPs, who had a free vote, not to back an outright ban.

Ministers suggested such a ban would prove "unworkable" and insisted the government's bill was the best way of preventing animal cruelty.

Labour backbencher Tony Banks hailed the vote as "excellent news".

"Hopefully we have achieved a total ban on the hunting of wild mammals with dogs, which is something we promised as a party that we would do," he said.

Lords opposition

The bill will now return to a committee of MPs to review the changes, and will not go to the House of Lords until the autumn.

HUNTING BAN TIMETABLE
1997: Labour's election manifesto promises free vote on a hunting ban
1999: Countryside Alliance marches in support of hunting at Labour Party conference
2000: Burns inquiry shows a maximum of 4,300 jobs would be lost by a ban, not the 16,000 claimed by supporters
2001: Lords votes against Hunting Bill
2002: Six month consultation announced to produce new bill
2003: MPs vote by 362 to 154 to ban fox-hunting with dog

If the Lords rejects it, MPs will have to pass the bill in two successive sessions of Parliament to get the ban on the statute books.

The pro-hunting Countryside Alliance said the vote would only stiffen the resolve of the House of Lords to oppose the ban.

The Alliance's Tim Bonner said: "I think Alun Michael clearly knew he was beaten, that he had not persuaded the Parliamentary Labour Party to back his bill, so he backed down and allowed the banners to have their way.

"In our view it means that a ban on hunting is probably further away, not closer."

But Phyllis Campbell-McRae, the UK director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, welcomed the vote "wholeheartedly".

"The cruelty of hunting with dogs is unacceptable in modern society and the vote this evening means that the House of Commons has signalled a total end to this barbaric activity," she said.

The animal welfare campaigner said she now expected the government to ensure the ban passed into law.

'Shame'

Earlier, Mr Michael said much of the criticism of the bill was misplaced.

He told MPs: "This will ensure that all cruelty associated with hunting with dogs will be banned - no doubt, no compromise, no delay."

Ann Widdecombe, one of the few anti-hunt Tory MPs, urged MPs to seize the best chance to years to "ban that barbarism" completely.

It would be a "mark of shame" for MPs to give in to "some shoddy compromise that a blackmailing government has tried to impose on its own backbenchers", she said.

Conservative frontbencher James Gray instead argued voters would be puzzled why so much time was being wasted on hunting when soldiers were dying in Iraq and the NHS was in "crisis".

Fellow Tory MP Nicholas Soames predicted a ban would leave "deep and abiding resentment" in the countryside.

The government's consultation on the bill was a "disgraceful sham", he said.

News of the vote was greeted with both cheers and jeers from campaigners from both sides of the hunting debate who had gathered in Parliament Square.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Jonathan Beale
"The days of fox hunting now look numbered"



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