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Last Updated: Sunday, 2 November, 2003, 10:30 GMT
Hunt supporters defiant over ban
Riders with the Beaufort Hunt on Saturday
The pro-hunt lobby is stepping up its campaign
Thousands of people gathered around England and Wales to protest against moves to outlaw hunting with dogs.

Organisers said 37,000 protesters at 11 rallies on Saturday and one on Friday, to mark the first day of the new hunting season, signed a pledge to ignore any ban.

A bill to ban hunting was in effect killed off on Thursday, after the House of Lords ran out of time to debate it.

But the government has hinted it might use the Parliament Act to force the legislation onto the statute books.

The rallies were staged by the Countryside Alliance and the Council of Hunting Associations.

One of the biggest was held in Trimdon, in the prime minister's constituency of Sedgefield.

Pro-hunt rallies
Honiton, Devon
Badminton, Gloucestershire
Newbury, Berkshire
Higham, near Ipswich
Tonbridge, Kent
Malvern, Worcestershire
Builth Wells, Wales
Warrington, Cheshire
Malton, North Yorkshire
Trimdon, Durham
Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire
Rydal, Cumbria (Friday)

The declaration commits activists to disobey, peacefully, any ban on hunting and then face the legal consequences.

Simon Hart, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, told a gathering at the Newbury Showground in Berkshire: "Our common bond is a simple message. The message is 'No to unjust law'.

"I will not stand by and see the destruction of jobs, of communities, of my friends and my family and your friends and your family."

'Cruel and barbaric'

The chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, Douglas Batchelor, said the protesters were clearly wrong.

"What you're seeing... is people who are saying they can't accept the judgement of parliament or the tide of history, that these cruel and barbaric sports should be banned."

Derek Pearce, a churchwarden and magistrate of 18 years standing, is prepared to go to prison rather than give up his passion for hunting with hounds

The first of the protests was held in Rydal in Cumbria on Friday, where more than a thousands hunt supporters gathered in the wind and rain to make their case.

In June of this year, MPs voted to completely outlaw hunting with dogs in England and Wales.

But on Thursday peers effectively blocked the Hunting Bill by voting to adjourn its committee stage to another day.

Ministers now have the option to reintroduce the bill in the Commons when the new session starts later this month.

If it was passed again by MPs, it would then go to the Lords in early 2004.

If peers voted to block the bill for a second time, the Parliament Act - a rarely used instrument to enforce the will of MPs if there is deadlock with peers - could be invoked.

If it was used, a ban could become law by autumn of next year.

'Obey the law'

Asked about the government's intentions on BBC One's Breakfast with Frost, Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer said he could not say what would be included in the Queen's Speech later this month.

"We have got to see what can be done in the light of Parliament in effect failing to agree what is the right way forward," he said.

Lord Falconer said the law had to be obeyed, whatever decision Parliament ultimately took.

Hunting has already been banned in Scotland.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Tom Heap
"The hunting lobby are trying to prove that a ban would be unworkable"



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