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Last Updated: Sunday, 2 November, 2003, 12:14 GMT
Peers 'abused power on hunting'
Riders with the Beaufort Hunt on Saturday
The pro-hunt lobby is stepping up its campaign
Peers cannot be allowed to stand in the way of MPs' overwhelming calls for anti-hunting laws, the leader of the House of Commons has said.

Peter Hain signalled the government's intention to use the Parliament Act to force laws through the Lords, which this week again blocked a complete ban.

But he did not say whether he was talking about an outright ban or the compromise option initially favoured by ministers.

The pro-hunt lobby says 37,000 protesters at 11 rallies on Saturday and one on Friday to mark the new season signed pledges to ignore any hunting ban.

But Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer said hunt groups would be expected to obey the law, whatever Parliament decided.

'Abuse of democracy'

Mr Hain told Sky News peers were guilty of a "flagrant abuse" of their power to destroy a bill hugely backed by MPs.

Labour's last manifesto promised a free vote to enable Parliament to reach a conclusion on the long-running issue.

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)

Mr Hain said: "Can we continue to allow the House of Lords to defy the House of Commons and the will of the people who voted this Labour government in with a mandate to ban cruelty to animals?

"We will have to find a way of ensuring that a ban on cruelty to animals, which was what the House of Commons voted for overwhelmingly and what the people supported in two general elections, is implemented.

"The House of Lords cannot continue to stand in the way of that because otherwise it is an abuse of democracy."

'Lawful society'

Asked if the government planned to use the Parliament Act, Lord Falconer told BBC One's Breakfast with Frost he could not reveal what would be in this month's Queen's Speech.

Asked about the threats to ignore the ban, Lord Falconer said: "Whatever conclusion Parliament reaches the law has got to be obeyed. That's the way our society has always operated."

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

John Rolls, RSPCA director of animal welfare promotion, said he was "delighted" by Mr Hain's comments and looked forward to the end of a "barbaric practice".

Saturday's pro-hunt rallies were staged by the Countryside Alliance and the Council of Hunting Associations.

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."

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

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

Breaking deadlock

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.

The government initially proposed allowing some hunting with dogs to continue under license, while outlawing hare coursing and deer hunting.

Hunting has already been banned in Scotland.

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

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