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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 October, 2003, 21:31 GMT 22:31 UK
Lords rejects hunting ban
Are hunts' days numbered?
The House of Lords has thrown out MPs' overwhelming calls for an outright ban on hunting with dogs.

As the Hunting Bill returned to the Lords in the latest stage of the long-running row, peers voted by a majority of 212 in favour of allowing hunting to continue under licence.

The vote reinstates the plans for a registration system originally proposed by the government but later rejected in the House of Commons.

It comes after Environment Minister Lord Whitty warned peers they risked creating a constitutional impasse if they ignored the judgement of MPs.

Anti-hunt campaigners say the pro-hunt changes, which won cross-party backing, show there can be no compromise in the hunting dispute.

That puts the spotlight on the government to decide whether to use the Parliament Act to ensure MPs get their way in the face of House of Lords opposition.

Reaching an end?

The government originally proposed a licensing system to allow some forms of hunting to continue, judged against the tests of cruelty and their use for pest control.

The government would also have banned stag hunting and hare coursing automatically - something the Lords has yet to decide upon.

MPs in July voted to turn the Hunting Bill into a complete ban on all hunting with dogs by a majority of 208 in a free vote.

As the bill began its Lords committee stage, Lord Whitty said peers should not get ahead of themselves on what could happen.

Lord Carlile, Lib Dem peer
Carlile: Ministers are taking on the countryside
But he said: "If the House of Lords now fails to agree with the House of Commons, then it will be for the House of Commons to decide where to take it. We will in that sense enable Parliament to reach a conclusion."

The government would not advise the Lords to pass any amendments, said Lord Whitty, provoking accusations of "arrogance" from one Conservative peer.

The minister stressed there would be free votes in the debate and said the changes "substantially diluted" ministers' original plans.

But if peers ignored the fact that MPs had taken a judgement "then we are avoiding both discussing the content of the legislation and we are avoiding the potential constitutional impasse we would be up against".

Key votes

Labour's Baroness Mallalieu, president of the Countryside Alliance, led the pro-hunt lobby's Lords efforts.

Opening the debate, she said the government's registration proposal would have been essentially "workable and seen to be fair and reasonable on all sides and would, I believe, have had the respect of the rural communities to which it would apply".

MPs had "wrecked" those plans, she said, and the Lords should ensure the government was kept to its promise to pass a fair law based on the evidence.

Any hope of a compromise is now stone dead
Douglas Batchelor
League Against Cruel Sports

Defects with the bill as it now stood would "create a nightmare for the police and the courts and a field day for the lawyers", she said.

Labour peer Lord Alli opposed the complete ban, saying freedom was a precious thing.

"You have to want freedom badly enough to allow two men to walk down a road, holding hands and kissing," he said.

"You have to want freedom badly enough to watch British Muslims burn a Union flag and you have to want freedom badly enough to allow people to get on to horses and hunt."

Collision course

Labour's Lord Graham of Edmonton told peers their job was to revise legislation, whereas the pro-hunt amendments would "disembowel" it.

"It is not a question of an argument on the issue, it is an argument between the two houses," he said, insisting that MPs' decisions should not be treated so casually.

Can't they just ban fox hunting full stop and let it rest
Mark, England

Other changes passed by pro-hunt peers included making it explicit that the new laws would only cover those hunting "intentionally", rather than normal dog owners whose pets chased an animal.

The committee stages of the bill continue in the Lords on Wednesday next week.

Douglas Batchelor, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, said the amendments would allow hunts to continue if they passed only two "self-imposed tests".

The Parliament Act was the only way to get a ban, he said as "any hope of a compromise is now stone dead".

With the complete ban calls defeated in the Lords, the bill will go back to the Commons, where MPs are likely to overturn the Lords amendments.

That would begin a "ping-pong" battle of wills before the government decides whether to use the Queen's Speech to spell out its intention to use the Parliament Act.

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