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Last Updated: Sunday, 6 July, 2003, 10:57 GMT 11:57 UK
'Lack of will' for hunt battle
A fox hunt
Are hunts' days numbered?
Parliament still has a fight on its hands if opponents of hunting with dogs are to achieve a ban, former Labour minister Tony Banks has said.

But the ex-sports minister cast doubt on whether there was the political will at the top of the government for the forthcoming parliamentary battle.

"There are clearly problems over political will at the top level," Mr Banks told GMTV's Sunday programme.

A ban would fulfill a pledge to the electorate but Mr Banks said that Prime Minister Tony Blair wanted an "elegant solution" to the problem.

But the "irreconcilable" nature of the issue meant it would not be resolved with a compromise, he added.


Mr Banks also attacked members of the hunting community who complained they risked being turned into criminals in the event of a hunt ban.

"People talk about us criminalising people - no, people criminalise themselves," he said.

"We pass the laws and if people disobey them, they criminalise themselves.

"It is the duty of the police to carry out the law and equally it is the duty of MPs and the government to carry out the will as well as the ends."

That could even mean jail, the Labour MP suggested.

MPs backed ban

Last Monday MPs voted for an absolute ban on foxhunting despite government attempts to steer backbenchers in the direction of a compromise that would have allowed limited hunting under licence.

The issue now passes to the House of Lords which has repeatedly rejected attempts to introduce a ban.

The government has refused to say whether a further vote by peers to overturn the will of the Commons would result in a decision to use the Parliament Act which would force a ban through the Lords.

The pro-hunting Countryside Alliance has vowed to continue their fight to prevent a ban and predicted more mass demonstrations.

Labour was elected with a pledge to allow a free vote on fox hunting in 1997.

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 says between 6,000 to 8,000 jobs would be lost by a ban.
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
Last Monday, ministers dramatically decided at the end of the five hour debate to withdraw an amendment that backed their bid to bring about a compromise.

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

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

If peers reject it, MPs will have to pass the bill in two successive sessions of Parliament and then use the Parliament Act to over-ride Lords objections if a ban is to become law.

Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael has said he hopes the Lords "would not block" the legislation, but stressed that the government "would not stand in the way" of applying the little-used Parliament Act to force the legislation through.

Asked if he could see hunting continuing in a couple of years, the minister said: "I would be very surprised, other than in the way of exemptions.

"The bill will end up as a ban with exceptions, just as my bill was a ban with exceptions."

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